Another day, another bout of Tory faction fighting and this time, the gloves are off (again). In the blue corner, former home secretary Priti Patel and in the… other blue corner, Suella Braverman, the home secretary.
Patel has accused her former department of being “secretive and evasive” over its plans to house 1,700 asylum seekers at a former RAF base located in Wethersfield, Essex, close to Patel’s Witham constituency. The site is one of a number of military bases that have been earmarked, along with the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge, to house asylum seekers in continued attempts to reduce the costs of hotel accommodation.
In a letter addressed to both Braverman and immigration minister Robert Jenrick, which she subsequently posted on Twitter (or rather, X), she wrote that the lack of clarity over the plans was “alarming and staggering”. Now, Patel wants answers about exactly how many people would be housed there and for how long after it had come to her attention over the weekend that the government was quietly hoping to use the site until 2028. The first asylum seekers were moved to the location in July.
Local residents have also raised objections to the plans, including the Braintree district council who have brought legal action to challenge the use of the airfield. Human rights and refugee campaigners have also told the Home Office that they are concerned over the need to house asylum seekers in “quasi-detention” conditions in rural areas away from support networks.
The feud is far from new. In March, Patel threatened to sue Braverman during a dispute over the overcrowding at the Manson asylum centre. After being informed that she was being blamed for the overcrowding issues, Patel called cabinet secretary Simon Case, stating that if claims were not retracted she would commence legal proceedings for defamation, the Mail on Sunday reported.
One source told the newspaper: “Priti worked round the clock when she was home secretary to tackle this problem and erupted when she was told that her record was being criticised. Simon Case had to calm her down.”
But is Patel’s latest outburst a clear-cut case of nimbyism? Patel’s constituency is close to the Wethersfield airbase and, unlike the protests of the council and human rights groups, her concerns are over their presence as opposed to the conditions for inmates. It’s unlikely that her objections to the use of the Scampton base in Lincolnshire, also touted as a potential location to house asylum seekers, will be as strong.