The Home Secretary has faced calls to resign over comments she made about Napier Barracks, the military site being used to house asylum seekers who have crossed the English Channel.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, the SNP’s Joanna Cherry suggested what Priti Patel said about the former army barracks back in February was “simply not factually correct”.
She asked: “So why isn’t the Home Secretary tendering her resignation as Amber Rudd had the grace and decency to do?”
Ms Patel had told the Home Affairs Committee on February 24 that decisions about Napier Barracks were all based on Public Health England advice, using social distancing measures.
Nearly 200 people at the barracks in Folkestone, Kent, contracted Covid-19 during a major outbreak earlier this year.
Last week two senior health officials said it was still “difficult to envisage” the site being considered Covid-safe.
The discussion in Parliament comes after six asylum seekers formerly housed at Napier Barracks recently won a legal challenge against the Government as a High Court judge ruled their accommodation was inadequate.
The Home Office has faced renewed calls to shut the site in the aftermath of the verdict, but says “significant improvements” have been made.
The issue of the barracks was raised in an urgent question on Thursday, with minister Chris Philp answering questions from MPs.
Ms Cherry said: “Other MPs have asked the minister whether the current Home Secretary misled the committee in oral evidence on February 24 this year.
“In response to those questions the minister keeps referring to a Public Health England letter from June of this year, which talks about full co-operation from the Home Office since spring of this year.
“Of course when the Home Secretary gave evidence on February 24, she was talking about what had happened before then, not what happened this spring, and evidence presented to the High Court suggests that what she said – that the department had previously followed public health guidance regarding Napier Barracks in every single way – was simply not factually correct and the High Court has said the fact that the public health evidence was ignored meant the Covid outbreak was inevitable.”
Several MPs raised the case of Amber Rudd resigning as home secretary in 2018 for “inadvertently misleading” the Home Affairs Committee over targets for removing illegal immigrants.
Conservative MP Damian Collins, whose Folkestone and Hythe constituency includes Napier Barracks, asked Mr Philp if the Home Office intends to keep using the site beyond September and was told “no decision has been made”.
In response to recent speculation about the ongoing Covid-safety of Napier Barracks, the Home Office said “significant improvements have been made”.
Their spokesperson 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 court explicitly found that the conditions of the barracks, and the treatment of residents at Napier did not breach human rights.
“At all times during the pandemic 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.”
Also on Thursday, the Home Office announced measures to encourage more local authorities around the UK to take in child migrants who arrive unaccompanied.
It follows a threat of legal action by Kent County Council which said it faces extreme pressure on its services for unaccompanied child migrants.
The authority has said it may no longer be able to accept new unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) within days – a situation which came to pass in August 2020.