The Home Office is facing a judicial review on the conditions at the Manston migrant processing centre, the immigration minister has told Sky News.
Robert Jenrick said the legal action has begun after reports of severe overcrowding at the center in Kent, which is meant to hold 1,600 people but has been housing about 4,000 migrants, according to MPs.
He told The Take with Sophy Ridge programme: “I believe we have received the initial contact for a judicial review.
“That’s not unusual, this is a highly litigious area of policy but of course, as the responsible minister, I want to make sure everything we do is conducted appropriately and within the law.”
Mr Jenrick said he could not reveal who had brought the judicial review as it was legally sensitive but Sky News understands the Home Office has received the pre-action protocol letter for a judicial review and the department will be responding “in due course”.
The immigration minister said he expects Manston to return to a “legally compliant site” soon – implying the site is not currently adhering to its legal obligations as a migrant processing site as the government faces a legal battle about it.
Judicial reviews determine the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body, in this case the Home Office. It takes about three to five months to get a decision but an injunction can halt action immediately.
News of a judicial review comes as:
• Lib Dem MP Michael Carmichael told the Commons the Home Secretary said she did not want to “prematurely release” migrants into local communities without having anywhere to stay – but there were reports a bus full of Manston migrants were “abandoned” at Victoria Station last night
• Kent and Medway council chiefs have written to the home secretary to urge her to stop using the county as an “easy fix” as they say they are under “disproportionate pressure” due to their location – and there are no more school spaces for year seven and nine local children due to the unplanned arrival of refugee children
• Four senior MPs, chairs of influential committees, have called on Mrs Braverman to explain how the government will get to grips with the migrant crisis as they expressed their “deep concerns” over the “dire” conditions at Manston
• Albania’s prime minister hit out at the UK government for blaming Albanians for the migrant crisis.
Extraordinary that a minister admitted what’s going on in Manston isn’t legal – ahead of a court fight
Robert Jenrick confirmed the government is now going to have to justify, in court, why what it was doing was legal.
He told The Take with Sophy Ridge: “I expect Manston will be returned to a well-functioning and legally compliant site very rapidly.”
I thought that was extraordinary – that sounds awfully like a minister sitting here admitting that what’s going on in Manston in Kent isn’t legal – as the government is about to face a fight on exactly that point in court.
Whether that will play into the legal arguments, we will see.
Mr Jenrick also talked about good forecasts. Turn that around, he means bad weather forecasts because over the weekend the lovely weather allowed lots of people to come over in small boats.
That put this extraordinary pressure, layered on the chronic systemic issues – people sleeping on floors, on chairs.
He denied the scabies reported at Manston was a consequence of what was going on in there but clearly there is a big problem with lots to fix.
This is all plugging into a difficult political area for the government but right now, remember Suella Braverman was given legal advice that sources say she ignored about the conditions in Manston – which she denies.
For a minister to basically be admitting what was going on inside Manston was illegal feels like quite a problem.
Hungry migrants in flip-flops left at station
As the judicial review was confirmed by Mr Jenrick, details of Manston migrants being left at Victoria Station last night emerged.
The group of 11 men were driven to the capital from Kent on Tuesday as part of a larger group, according to The Guardian.
Volunteers from the Under One Sky homelessness charity, who provided them with food and clothes, said many were in flip-flops and without winter coats.
“They were stressed, disturbed and completely disoriented,” said volunteer Danial Abbas.
“They were also very hungry.”
A British Transport Police spokesman said they responded to reports of a group of asylum seekers seeking assistance at Victoria Station at 10.33pm on Tuesday, with officers liaising with charity partners, rail staff and government staff to help find them accommodation.
‘Expect Manston to be legally compliant soon’
The immigration minister, who was only appointed last week by Rishi Sunak, said he has been working with Home Secretary Suella Braverman to reduce the number of people and also the length of time they are staying at Manston – which is only meant to be 24 hours but has been much longer in some cases.
He added: “So the week I’ve been in post I’ve tried to work night and day to ensure the Manston site is not just legally compliant but is a humane and compassionate place where we welcome those migrants, treat them appropriately and then they leave quickly to alternative accommodation.
“I’m pleased to say that this evening that’s the way we’re on, the numbers at Manston have fallen very substantially since the weekend when we became aware of the specific issues and got involved so directly.
“I think we’re on a path now where within a matter of days, assuming we don’t see very large numbers of migrants coming across the Channel – I don’t think that’s going to happen as we have good forecasts of the weather and other intelligence from northern France.
“I expect Manston will be returned to a well-functioning and legally compliant site very rapidly.”
This is the Conservatives’ making
Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The Conservative government has no excuse. They have been warned about these problems for months and failed to act.
“These problems are entirely of their making – their decision-making has collapsed, so the backlog has grown and they clearly haven’t planned or properly followed legal advice.
“We need urgent answers on what the home secretary knew and when. The prime minister promised integrity and professionalism but all they have shown is the opposite. This is complete chaos and they need to urgently get a grip.”
Labour’s shadow policing minister Sarah Jones told Sky News she was not surprised a judicial review had been launched and Manston was “working fine until five weeks ago when the home secretary decided not to add additional hotels” to house migrants.
Mr Jenrick denied he had taken over from Mrs Braverman in dealing with Manston after she was accused of failing to listen to legal advice that said migrants from Manston needed to be sent to hotels after being processed within a day of arriving.
She denied this in parliament on Tuesday.
“We’ve been working extremely closely together, we’ve procured more hotels, extra support, brilliant officers from Border Force supported by contractors and armed forces,” Mr Jenrick added.
A Home Office spokeswoman told Sky News: “The number of people arriving in the UK via small boats has reached record levels and continues to put our asylum system under incredible pressure.
“Manston remains resourced and equipped to process migrants securely and we will provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible.
“We urge anyone who is thinking about leaving a safe country and risk their lives at the hands of criminal people smugglers to seriously reconsider. Despite what they have been told, they will not be allowed to start a new life here.”