Napier barracks: Priti Patel accused of misleading MPs

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 (PHE) 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 after 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”.

Sy het bygevoeg: “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 housed at the site was flawed and unlawful. It also found that residents were unlawfully detained under purported Covid rules.

Despite the ruling, a damning independent inspection early in the year, and a significant outbreak of Covid in which 200 people – half the residents – contracted the virus, public health officials said ministers have persisted in housing vulnerable men in dormitories of up to 28. The Kent officials told the home affairs select committee that it was “hard to envisage” how Napier barracks, near Folkestone, was Covid-secure.

The immigration minister, Chris Philp, defending the Home Office’s actions, 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 confirmed PHE had warned the Home Office that dormitories could not be Covid-compliant, prior to the barracks opening to asylum seekers in September 2020.

The Home Office said: “During the height of an unprecedented health pandemic, to ensure asylum seekers were not left destitute, additional accommodation was required at extremely short notice. We make no apology for providing people a secure place to stay. The judgment rejected the claim that conditions at Napier amounted to inhumane or degrading treatment.

“At all times during the pandemic we believed we took reasonable steps to give effect to the advice from the health authorities. Significant improvements have been made to the site, including improved accommodation and more outdoor and recreational activities.”

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