Priti Patel is blaming her successor Suella Braverman for the failure to take steps to prevent the Kent asylum centre crisis, piling further pressure on the home secretary.
The Home Office has been accused by a Tory MP of a “deliberate” decision to allow dangerous overcrowding at the Manston site, possibly to send a harsh message to would-be refugees.
Now Ms Patel has made known she did book hotel rooms for asylum seekers while in charge of the Home Office – raising the question of why the practice stopped when Ms Braverman took over last month.
“There was never any overcrowding when she was there. What would happen was, if it got to the point where people were getting worried about conditions, we would sign off on more hotels,” a source close to Ms Patel said.
The former home secretary considered it “the right thing to do”, the source told the PA news agency – while a second source insisted it was “business as usual” until Ms Patel resigned when Liz Truss became prime minister.
Grant Shapps, who was home secretary for six days until Ms Braverman’s shock return, is also making known he followed advice and began to book hotel rooms earlier this month.
David Normington, a former Home Office top civil servant, said Ms Suella Braverman may have breached the ministerial code if she deliberately decided not to book hotels to address overcrowding.
Earlier, the Conservative MP Roger Gale accused his own government of “dog whistle politics” – alleging the desperate conditions at the Manston centre were “deliberately” caused by the Home Office.
Around 4,000 asylum seekers were crammed into the site on Sunday – which is designed for 1,600 people – in dire living conditions, with outbreaks of diseases including diphtheria and MSRA.
Ms Braverman has been accused of failing to act on legal advice, received at least three weeks ago, that the length of detention there is unlawful.
The law requires detention for no longer than 24 hours, as refugee claims are lodged for processing – but some asylum seekers at Manston have been there for four weeks.
The Home Office fears it will be forced to pay out thousands of pounds to people who have crossed the Channel in small boats, which would be a public relations disaster for the Conservatives.
It is now hurriedly reserving both entire hotels and “spot booking” individual rooms alongside other residents, at up to £150 per night.
Sir Roger, whose North Thanet constituency includes the Manston centre suggested the crisis had “almost been developed deliberately”, through a refusal to book hotel rooms.
“That’s like driving a car down the motorway, seeing the motorway clear ahead – then there is a car crash and then suddenly there’s a five mile five mile tail back,” he said.
“The car crash was the decision not to book more hotel space.”
Asked about a home secretary deciding to send the message, ‘Don’t come because it won’t be attractive’, Sir Roger replied: “I would say that is wholly unacceptable.”