Priti Patel questioned by MPs after Covid outbreak at Napier Barracks

MPs demand Priti Patel’s resignation over Covid outbreak among asylum seekers at Napier Barracks after judge ruled conditions in camp were unlawful

  • Home Secretary, 49, faced criticism after Covid outbreak at Kent asylum centre
  • Cross-section of MPs pointed to example of Amber Rudd’s resignation in 2018 
  • A judge had earlier ruled the conditions at Napier Barracks were ‘unlawful’ as six asylum seekers brought forward legal proceedings against the Government 
  • Public Health England advised the government not to house refugees in large dormitories at the Kent centre, as over 200 people caught Covid there in January

Priti Patel has faced fresh calls to resign over comments she made regarding Napier Barracks, after a judge ruled conditions in the camp were ‘unlawful’.

The Home Secretary, 49, faced the wrath of a cross-section of MPs, with some accusing her of ‘ignoring public health advice’ and others questioning if she would tender her resignation.

Representatives from the SNP and Labour chastised Ms Patel after an urgent question was put forward for debate in the House of Commons earlier today.

Several MPs pointed to former Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigning from her position in 2018 after ‘inadvertently misleading’ the Home Affairs Committee over targets for removing illegal immigrants. 

It comes as six asylum seekers housed at Napier Barracks, Kent brought forward legal proceedings against the government over the centre’s ‘appalling’ conditions – after more than 200 people at the site tested positive for Covid during an outbreak in January.  

Public Health England had previously advised the Government not to house those seeking asylum in dormitories, but this went ahead regardless. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel, 49, has faced fresh calls for her resignation after MPs accused her of ‘ignoring public health advice’ at Napier Barracks, Kent

Last week, High Court judge Mr Justice Linden ruled that Napier Barracks, where 200 residents caught coronavirus and seven attempted suicide, provided inadequate accommodation. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel vowed the barracks will stay open amid increasing calls from campaigners to get the site shut down, which was described by inspectors as ‘filthy’. 

Speaking today, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Yvette Cooper accused the Home Office of ‘ignoring public health advice in the middle of a pandemic and putting public health at risk’ at Napier Barracks.

Asking an urgent question on the judicial review judgment on asylum accommodation at the barracks, Ms Cooper said: ‘In January there was a major Covid outbreak at the Home Office centre at Napier Barracks. 200 people got Covid, both residents and staff impacting on the local community too.

‘Last week’s damning court judgment said the bottom line is that the arrangements at the barracks were contrary to the advice from Public Health England, the precautions that were taken were completely inadequate to prevent the spread of Covid and the outbreak which occurred in mid-January was inevitable.’

She went on: ‘The independent inspectorate and local health officials found poor ventilation in dormitories, inadequate shared washing facilities, a deficient cleaning regime, no proper arrangements for self-isolation – those testing positive and negative all kept in the same large dormitories.

‘The Home Office was clearly not following public health advice in every way or at every stage. The minister has an obligation to correct the record so will he now admit that the Home Office did not follow public health advice and apologise for the inaccurate information given?

‘The Home Office has a responsibility to keep people safe. Why has it been ignoring public health advice in the middle of a pandemic and putting public health at risk?’ 

Lawyers described the asylum centre at Kent as overcrowded and said it ‘felt like a prison’. 200 people caught Covid at the Barracks in January

The SNP’s Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) added: ‘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.

‘So why isn’t the Home Secretary tendering her resignation as Amber Rudd had the grace and decency to do?’ 

Home Office minister Chris Philp, asked by Conservative Damian Collins about whether the Home Office intends to renew its lease on Napier Barracks, told the Commons: ‘The current arrangements on the site are due to run until September and no decision has been made beyond that.’

Mr Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) earlier said the use of Napier Barracks had been ‘disruptive’ to his community and his constituents are ‘united in their opposition’ to the use of the site in its current way.

Home Office minister Chris Philp told the Commons that Covid measures at Napier Barracks have been ‘enhanced’.

Responding to the question from Ms Cooper he said: ‘The reality is that in the middle of a pandemic outbreaks in some places do occur.

‘We’ve had outbreaks in the hotels that have been used as well, in other parts of Government in prisons and other places there have been outbreaks. We’ve had Covid going around Parliament as well, I caught Covid myself as well, in fact five million people have tested positive for Covid.

‘This virus knows no boundaries.’

He listed measures that were taken to combat the virus on the site including ‘rigorous cleaning built into the contract, hand sanitisers, social distancing’ and added: ‘Those have now been enhanced further.’

Six asylum seekers housed at Napier Barracks, Kent brought forward legal proceedings against the government over the centre’s ‘appalling’ conditions

Mr Philp said: ‘More cleaning, staggered access to communal areas and three times a week lateral flow testing and we’ve also reduced the numbers currently on the site.’

Royal Navy boats should be used to remove people who ‘illegally’ seek to enter the UK from France, MPs have heard.

Conservative Peter Bone (Wellingborough) told the Commons: ‘The problem isn’t Napier Barracks, it’s the problem of people crossing the Channel illegally from France.

‘Isn’t a simple solution that when these people arrive in England, we put them on a Royal Navy boat, take them back to France because France is a safe country and that is where asylum should be claimed – and if we did it, it’d stop the problem.’

Home Office minister Chris Philp said Channel crossings are ‘running at extremely unacceptably high levels’, adding France is a ‘safe country’.

Conservative Marco Longhi (Dudley North) said professors had given evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee about how buildings ‘could be something akin to aggressive or threatening’, adding in apparent jokey comments: ‘So I think the illegal immigrants at Napier may have acted perhaps in self-defence when trashing and torching the barracks.

‘We should all be aware of their vulnerabilities and sensibilities. 

‘So will the minister agree to perhaps send a delegation from the equalities committee to assess this building aggression – particularly (Conservative MP Lee Anderson), whose sensibilities make him ideally suited to the job.’

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