OPINION - Suella Braverman under pressure over private emails and migrant processing crisis

 (Ben Turner)
(Ben Turner)

The home secretary is facing calls to resign for a second time in two weeks amid separate issues relating to her conduct in office. The first is the same one that forced her initial departure, regarding the use of a private email account to send sensitive government documents.

In a letter published today, Suella Braverman acknowledged she “sent official documents from my Government email to my personal email address on six occasions”.

Perhaps the strangest incident was when Braverman accidentally emailed a draft written ministerial statement on immigration policy to a staff member in Conservative MP Andrew Percy’s office. The home secretary insisted it was not classified as secret or top secret but that some “sentences had not been fully agreed by all departments”.

Percy said in reply stating it was “not acceptable” to share documents via Gmail. He went on: “You are nominally in charge of the security of this nation, we have received many warnings even as lowly backbenchers about cyber security.”

As if this weren’t enough, Braverman is also under intense scrutiny amid accusations she ignored legal advice relating to the treatment of migrants. At around 5.15 this afternoon, she is expected to face MPs in Parliament to explain the deteriorating situation at the Manston asylum processing site in Kent.

The Sunday Times yesterday and Bloomberg today report that Braverman failed to act on legal advice regarding the detention of migrants and the need to provide alternative accommodation.

This morning Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale denounced the overcrowding at the facility in his North Thanet constituency as “wholly unacceptable” and suggested it might have been allowed to occur “deliberately”.

There are now an estimated 4,000 people in Manston, a venue designed to hold only 1,600. Furthermore, migrants are supposed to be processed and moved on within 24 hours, but when the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Neal, visited last week, he found some who had been there for a month awaiting accommodation.

This included reports of one family from Afghanistan that had been sleeping on mats on the floor of a temporary marquee for a month. Neal said the visit left him “speechless”. The Guardian has reported eight cases of diphtheria and one of MRSA.

How has it come to this? A source close to former home secretary Priti Patel told the PA news agency: “There was never any overcrowding when she was there. What would happen was if it got to the point where people were getting worried about conditions, we would sign off on more hotels.”

Former home office permanent secretary Sir David Normington told Radio 4’s World at One that it could amount to a further breach of the ministerial code if Braverman refused to book hotels on advice to avoid overcrowding.

This is a humanitarian crisis – not in some faraway land but in Kent. At the same time, it is a political problem for the prime minister. Sunak spent precious capital in re-appointing Braverman – whose support was critical to him winning the leadership race – to run the Home Office. That decision now appears to be backfiring spectacularly.

In the comment pages, Rob Rinder says he’s visited Russia and China but on Qatar there is a limit to where he will go. While whatever you do, don’t wish Melanie McDonagh a happy Halloween.

And finally, Jennifer Coolidge is back for the second season of The White Lotus. Expect further carnage, this time in Sicily. Elizabeth Gregory gives it five stars.

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