Priti Patel ‘threatened to sue Suella Braverman’ over asylum overcrowding claims

Priti Patel is said to have threatened to sue Suella Braverman, her successor at the Home Office, in a dispute about overcrowding at the Manston asylum processing centre.

The row follows the controversy over “Dickensian” conditions at the Kent facility where thousands of asylum seekers were held for several weeks at the end of autumn.

After being informed she would be blamed for the overcrowding problem, Ms Patel phoned cabinet secretary Simon Case and said if claims weren’t retracted she would start legal action for defamation, according to the Mail on Sunday.

A source told the newspaper: “Priti worked round the clock when she was home secretary to tackle this problem and erupted when she was told that her record was being criticised. Simon Case had to calm her down.”

Government sources had briefed negatively about Ms Patel’s time in charge at the Home Office when the overcrowding furore flared up in October.

Although there was no public criticism from Ms Braverman, immigration minister Robert Jenrick told MPs that he had inherited the problem after “insufficient accommodation was procured over a sustained period” by the Home Office.

Ms Patel is understood to deny this claim. Her allies have previously made known that she did book hotel rooms for asylum seekers while in charge of the Home Office – raising the question of why the practice was paused when Ms Braverman took over in September.

Allies of the former home secretary have defended her immigration reforms, and say Rishi Sunak’s government has failed to properly implement the Nationality and Borders Act.

It comes as Ms Braverman’s team said they were optimistic it could deport migrants to Rwanda “before the summer”.

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said the government wants to “get cracking” on sending migrants on a one-way trip to Rwanda, with plans being made for summer deportations.

“As soon as that [court] process is through – and I’m confident our policy is lawful – we will get cracking straight away with the Rwanda policy and use that as a tool in our armoury,” he told Sky News Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

Mr Dowden claimed the government was “forced” to ban asylum claims from small boat arrivals, claiming he did not “relish” the drastic action. “I don’t relish any of this and I really wish we didn’t have to do it ... The government is doing this because this is a major problem. We are being forced to do it.”

Former home secretary Priti Patel reportedly threatened to sue (PA)
Former home secretary Priti Patel reportedly threatened to sue (PA)

On her weekend trip to Rwanda, Ms Braverman expanded the agreement with the country to incorporate all those deemed to have illegally entered the UK as opposed to solely asylum seekers.

The revised deal is aimed at ensuring that all authorised entrants would be detained and removed under the Illegal Migration Bill – irrespective of the claim they bring, including asylum, human rights, modern slavery or nothing at all.

Ms Braverman also said the UK could withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in future. She said the bill as it stands “does not take us out of the ECHR”, but added: “Nothing is off the table, ultimately.”

Ms Braverman told reporters in Rwanda that there are “serious issues with the balance that’s currently being struck” by the European court in Strasbourg over human rights law.

Suella Braverman visited accomodation for asylum seekers from UK (PA)
Suella Braverman visited accomodation for asylum seekers from UK (PA)

The Court of Appeal hears a challenge against the Rwanda plan in April before offering a judgment in June. But if it goes to the Supreme Court, the government will have to decide whether to start deportation flights immediately and return people to the UK if the judgment ultimately goes against them.

The Independent understands that Tory moderates are discussing how best to amend the bill at the next stage – focusing on stopping child detention and any watering down of modern slavery protections.

However, right-wing Tory MPs are also understood to be drawing up plans to further toughen the bill with an amendment to pull the UK out of the ECHR.

Labour’s Lisa Nandy slammed the “unethical, unworkable” Rwanda policy and suggested money from the £140m deal should be used to aid the National Crime Agency’s efforts to tackle criminal gangs profiting from Channel crossings.

She said the government’s rhetoric had got “increasingly outlandish”, adding: “What is the government actually doing? So far they’ve done several PR opportunities and photo ops.”

Suella Braverman, centre, tours a building site on the outskirts of Kigali (PA Wire)
Suella Braverman, centre, tours a building site on the outskirts of Kigali (PA Wire)

Lord Kirkhope, the former Tory immigration minister, also criticised Ms Braverman’s “sloganeering” and her “waving arms around” visit to Rwanda – saying “that’s not the way a home secretary should go on”.

He told Times Radio: “I think policies like this one on immigration, and even some of the other sharper policies that we seem to be looking at still, I think they should be abandoned, they should be chucked out.”

On Saturday, Ms Braverman visited migrant housing and joked about interior designers. Looking inside one of the properties, she said: “These houses are really beautiful ... and I really like your interior designer. I need some advice for myself.”

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said the Rwanda trip was “an expensive distraction from the immoral, unworkable Braverman bill”.

The Refugee Council said Rishi Sunak and Ms Braverman’s legislation would mean as many as 45,000 children being effectively barred from obtaining refugee status in the UK in the first three years of the plan coming into effect.

It comes as a new Savanta ComRes survey for The Independent also found that Mr Sunak and Ms Braverman’s planned crackdown on the asylum claims of small boat migrants is popular with the public.

Some 59 per cent of voters are in favour of banning asylum claims and detaining and deporting those arriving on small boats via illegal routes, while only 20 per cent oppose the government’s bill.

The Savanta ComRes survey of 2,153 adults was carried out between 10 and 12 of March.