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PRITI PATEL faced renewed calls today to resign for allegedly misleading MPs when she claimed that the Home Office followed public health officials’ advice when opening Napier Barracks as housing for newly arrived asylum-seekers.
Correspondence from Public Health England (PHE), published on Wednesday, confirmed that it had warned the government that the ex-military barracks in Folkestone, Kent, would not be Covid-19 compliant if hundreds of people were held there.
But the Home Secretary told a hearing of the home affairs select committee in February that her department had followed PHE advice throughout.
In a Commons debate today, opposition MPs called on Ms Patel to resign, comparing her actions to those of Amber Rudd, who stepped down as home secretary in 2018 after she was found to have misled MPs over targets for the removal of undocumented migrants.
SNP MP Joanna Cherry described Ms Patel’s evidence to the committee on February 24 as “simply not factually correct,” noting that “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?” she demanded.
Labour MP Zarah Sultana told the Commons: “The ministerial code states that ministers [must] give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.”
“So I asked the minister, given this blatant discrepancy between the facts and what the Home Secretary said, why is she not here today to correct the record or will she learn from her predecessor, who resigned as Home Secretary for inadvertently misleading MPs?”
The High Court ruled last week that conditions at Napier Barracks did not meet minimum standards and that the Home Office’s decision to place asylum-seekers there was unlawful.
Home Office ministers have continued to justify the use of the site, where more than 200 men are currently housed.
Speaking during today’s debate, Immigration Minister Chris Philp sought to evade responsibility for a coronavirus outbreak at the barracks earlier this year.
He said that in the midst of a pandemic, “outbreaks in some places do occur,” including in Parliament, adding that “this virus knows no boundaries.”
The minister also claimed that army personnel had “happily” been using the site for years previously, despite a report revealing that conditions at Napier were not acceptable six years ago.
Public health officials in Kent have warned that Covid-19 risks remain high at the site, saying that it was “hard to envisage” Napier Barracks being made safe.
The Commons heard today that dormitories at the run-down site are still being used by up to 14 men each.
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