The home secretary, Priti Patel, has faced calls to resign in the House of Commons for allegedly misleading MPs with claims the Home Office followed public health advice when establishing the asylum camp at Napier barracks in Kent.
Correspondence published yesterday confirmed Public Health England had previously advised against housing asylum seekers in dormitories before the Home Office proceeded with the site regardless in September 2020.
But at a hearing of the home affairs select committee in February this year, Patel told MPs that the Home Office had followed PHE advice throughout.
During a debate following an urgent question in the Commons, opposition MPs called for Patel to resign for misleading MPs, as one of her predecessors, Amber Rudd, did when she had been found to have inadvertently misled the same committee.
The Scottish National party’s Joanna Cherry told the House that what Patel had said in February was “not factually correct and the high court has said the fact that the public health evidence was ignored meant the Covid outbreak was inevitable”.
She added: “So why isn’t the home secretary tendering her resignation as Amber Rudd had the grace and decency to do?”
Last week, six asylum seekers won a legal challenge against the government after a judge ruled that their accommodation in the barracks failed to meet a minimum standard.
The court found the barracks provided inadequate accommodation for asylum seekers and that the home secretary’s process for selecting people to be accommodated at the site was flawed and unlawful. It also found that residents of the barracks were unlawfully detained under purported Covid rules.
Despite the ruling, and a damning independent inspection early in the year, and significant outbreak of Covid in which 200 people, half the residents, contracted the virus, public health officials have warned the barracks remain a risk.
Public health leaders in Kent told MPs on the home affairs select committee that it was “hard to envisage” how Napier barracks near Folkestone was Covid-secure, as ministers persist in housing the vulnerable men in dormitories of up to 28.
Defending the Home Office’s actions, the immigration minister, Chris Philp, cited PHE correspondence that said it had a “positive ongoing dialogue” and was working “collaboratively with Home Office (HO) colleagues on a range of Covid-19-related issues since spring 2020”.
The same correspondence confirms PHE warned the Home Office dormitories could not be Covid-compliant prior to the barracks opening to asylum seekers in September 2020.