Home Office was 'in danger' of breaking law over Manston asylum centre, minister says

Short-term facility was "tipping into becoming an unofficial detention centre", ex-home secretary Shapps says
Manston: 4,000 people were reportedly being held at the short-term immigration facility at one time. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

By Alain Tolhurst

07 Nov 2022

Grant Shapps has said the UK was "in danger" of breaking the law over the way it processed asylum seekers during his brief stint as home secretary last month.

Shapps briefly took on the Home Office role last month after Suella Braverman was forced to resign over a security breach, before being reappointed by new prime minister Rishi Sunak just six days later.

He has now strongly hinted to Sky News that Braverman’s first stint in the Home Office had created the crisis at the Border Force facility in Manston in Kent by failing to sign off on hotel accommodation to move people into – something she has denied.

Shapps told the BBC he believed Manston asylum processing centre was "tipping into becoming an unofficial detention centre" when he took over from Braverman.

Almost 4,000 people were reported to be staying at the facility a fortnight ago, despite only having a capacity of around 1,500. Inspectors have said many asylum seekers had spent up to a month at a facility where people are meant to complete their processing within 24 hours.

A significant number of people are now believed to have been discharged from the centre but the government is facing a judicial review over whether the law was broken in their handling of the situation, and in how asylum seekers were treated.

PCS union announced over the weekend that it is joining the charity Detention Action taking legal action against Braverman over what it called the “horrendous, inhumane and dangerous” conditions at Manston. 

Shapps was asked by Sky News why he was so keen to sign off on hotel accommodation for people staying at the centre when he became home secretary.

"Simply that we've got to be careful not to break the law ourselves by detaining people who are able to be outside of that – well, it's not a detention centre, but a processing centre at Manston,” he replied.

He added that by signing off hotel accommodation, he was "making sure that we were acting within the law. That's something that the home secretary is continuing to do now”.

Shapps avoided explicitly stating that the law had been broken but said he had received "clear" advice on the matter. 

"We were in danger of doing that if we weren't acting," he said. “I did act during six days in the job.”

Shapps later told BBC Breakfast: "During that six days what I saw was a situation whereby a centre that was set up to be a processing centre – now this is at Manston airport in Kent – was tipping into becoming an unofficial detention centre.

"I was very keen to ensure that we maintained ourselves within the law, [I] had some very clear advice on that and made a number of changes.

“Both moving people out but also the running of the centre itself to ensure that it wasn't a detention centre, so some changes to the operation of the centre.

"Those are decisions that I very quickly made. Actually, the home secretary subsequently has continued to make the same changes to make sure that those numbers are brought down."

Braverman has insisted she has “has never ignored legal advice” about the centre, after it was reported that she had been told migrants were being detained there for unlawfully long periods. 

Alain Tolhurts is chief reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared

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