Britain is facing a migrant “invasion”, with its asylum system “broken” and illegal immigration “out of control”, the home secretary has said as she fights to keep her job.
Suella Braverman’s future in the senior Cabinet post is under scrutiny after questions over her judgment when she leaked sensitive government information.
But she stoked further controversy on Monday evening when she told MPs that Britain was facing an “invasion” of immigrants in language that was reminiscent of that used by the far right.
She also caused further consternation in Whitehall by deriding Britain’s asylum process that has largely been put in place by the Conservative government.
“The system is broken,” she said. “Illegal immigration is out of control.”
The home secretary, who oversees Britain’s domestic security, was found to have breached the ministerial code and was forced to resign on the last full day of former prime minister Liz Truss’s premiership on October 20.
She was reinstated after only six days by new leader Rishi Sunak and has been under significant pressure to explain her actions and breaches of the ministerial code that governs senior politicians’ behaviour.
Her problems have mounted since re-entering the Home Office, with the latest controversy being overcrowding at the Manston immigration centre in Kent.
During a boisterous hour-long appearance in the House of Commons, Ms Braverman insisted that she would remain in post.
“There are some people who would prefer to be rid of me,” she said. “Well, let them try. I know that I speak for the decent, law abiding, patriotic majority of British people from every background that want safe and secure borders.”
But moments later, Ms Braverman caused uproar in the chamber after she referred to an “invasion” of Britain by migrants.
“The British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast,” she told MPs. “Let's stop pretending they are all refugees in distress.”
A key charge against Ms Braverman is that the overcrowding in Manston, which is designed to hold about 1,600 immigrants but currently has more than 3,000, was that she refused to sign off hotels to be used instead.
Sources have alleged that she was given legal advice to provide safe and adequate accommodation but this was ignored.
But Ms Braverman told MPs that she had not blocked the hotels.
“I've never ignored legal advice. As a former AG [Attorney General], I know the importance of taking legal advice into account.”
The politician added that she was “appalled” to discover that the Home Office was paying £150 per person per night to put up Channel migrants in hotels, some of them “four star”.
With more than 30,000 migrants waiting to be processed, this amounted to £6 million a night, she said, the equivalent of £2.2 billion a year.
She added that people coming to Britain from “safe countries” such as Albania were “not welcome and should not expect to stay”.
There is speculation that Ms Braverman could be out of her post within weeks if not days, although some political sources suggest Mr Sunak does not want to give Labour an “early ministerial scalp”.
However, there was very little support for her on the front benches, with only two of her Home Office ministers and fellow right-wing Brexiteer Steve Baker sitting beside her.
After Ms Braverman's appearance in the Commons, the prisons watchdog called on the Home Office to “get a grip” on the problems at the Manston migrant processing centre.
Chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor said the government department and its contractors must speed up the processing of migrants and make “suitable provisions” so people can be moved off the site near Ramsgate in Kent “as quickly as possible”.
Mr Taylor's comments came as he published the findings of an inspection, carried out at the facility in July, which warned serious challenges remain for migrants crossing the Channel and arriving in Kent.
“The Home Office and contractors need to get a grip. They need to speed up the processing of migrants," he told BBC Radio 4.
"They need to make suitable provisions so people can be moved off site as quickly as possible and housed in humane and decent conditions.”
It is the first time the watchdog, which examines the conditions of prisons and other detention facilities, has inspected Manston — which opened in January — and two other migrant processing centres on the south coast.
Manston, at a disused airfield near Ramsgate, is supposed to be a short-term holding centre where immigration documents are issued and some migrants begin the asylum screening process.
They are only meant to stay for a maximum of 24 hours. While there is food, water, showers and toilets, the prisons watchdog said there are no beds or access to fresh air or exercise.
When migrants arrive in Kent after crossing the Channel from Calais, they are taken to sites at Western Jet Foil in Dover and Lydd Airport in Romney Marsh for health checks.
The Lydd Airport site was unoccupied at the time of the inspection.
In the watchdog’s findings, published on Tuesday, inspectors highlighted “failings” in procedures at Manston that “undermine the resilience of the centre for dealing with increasing volumes of detainees”.
But they also found the accommodation was suitable for short-term detention and noted efforts by staff to “create a calm and even welcoming atmosphere”.
Manston was described as having a “good amount” of accommodation available but, at the time of the inspection, “much of it was out of use because there were not enough staff”.
Other “signs of strain” included “exhausted detainees” sleeping on the floor, including some who had been waiting more than 30 hours to be processed.
Last week, David Neal, the chief inspector of borders and immigration, said during a visit to Manston he met families who had been at the centre for more than a month.
The prisons watchdog also found:
– Victims of trafficking, people with disabilities and severe mental health problems and other vulnerable detainees were “not always assessed or recorded appropriately”, with some not identified as “adults at risk”.
– The inspection raised concerns over the welfare and dignity of detainees. Some were not allowed to use mobile phones to let their families know they were safe and, in parts of the site, others were “inexplicably” not allowed to close toilet doors fully.
– Translation services were not always used to make sure detainees understood what was happening.
Mr Taylor said the inspection revealed “risks” linked to the centre and that since then, information from “credible sources”, including other watchdogs, suggested the current situation has “significantly deteriorated”.
As a result, he is planning a “swift return” to Manston for another inspection, when he will “expect to see substantial improvements”.
“In the meantime, the Home Office and its contractors need to get a grip and urgently act on the findings of this report to make sure all detainees are held in safe, decent and humane conditions,” Mr Taylor said.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We welcome the report’s finding that there have been considerable improvements to the infrastructure and processes in place to accommodate record numbers of people arriving in the UK illegally via small boats.
“As a result of these numbers, our asylum system has been put under incredible strain, but we recognise there is more to do to provide alternative accommodation for people arriving in the UK.
"We continue to work hard to resolve the current pressures at Manston as an urgent priority.
“Manston remains resourced and equipped to process migrants securely, and we will provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible.”