MPs fail to halt Priti Patel’s plan to send asylum seekers abroad for processing

Ministers abandon most likely location – Ascension Island – and are unable to say where refugees will be sent

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 22 March 2022 18:11 GMT
BBC Breakfast shows live footage of asylum seekers crossing Channel

MPs have failed in a bid to halt Priti Patel’s plan to send asylum seekers abroad for processing, even as ministers abandoned the most likely location.

A small group of Conservative rebels joined Opposition parties in trying to defeat the controversial move – but the government won the vote easily, with a majority of 70.

Earlier, the Home Office ruled out “offshoring” refugees on Ascension Island, in the South Atlantic – after a feasibility study – and were unable to name any other possible site for a processing centre.

One senior Conservative claimed that failing to implement the government’s promised crackdown on asylum seekers crossing the Channel would have a “catastrophic effect on race relations”.

The power for the home secretary to deprive people of British citizenship if “in the public interest” was also reinstated, after a series of defeats in the Lords on the Nationality and Borders Bill.

The Tory rebels are also poised to fail in an attempt to force the government to resettle at least 10,000 refugees in the UK every year, to cut those making the perilous Channel crossing.

And a clause to criminalise and potentially jail asylum seekers arriving by unauthorised routes – including from Ukraine – will also be reinstated. A minister said the power would only be used in “egregious cases”.

Ascension Island was seen as the most likely location to send asylum seekers to make applications, because – as a British overseas territory – no foreign government has to be involved.

In the Commons, Labour called the idea “unhinged” and “economically illiterate because it costs an eye-watering amount of taxpayers’ money”.

Andrew Mitchell, a former Tory Cabinet minister, has warned it would involve building a “British Guantanamo Bay” and cost £2m per asylum seeker – more than putting them up in The Ritz hotel.

But Tom Pursglove, a Home Office minister, said: “Just to be very clear for the benefit of the House, the suggestion around the Ascension Island is untrue.”

Mr Mitchell seized on the admission, telling The Independent: “The government has quite rightly now ruled out Ascension Island for offshoring.

“Offshoring is absurdly expensive and frankly the taxpayer would be less out of pocket if we accommodated all adults in the Ritz on three meals a day and sent those under 18 to school at Eton.”

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said: “With this vote, Boris Johnson and Priti Patel have taken a wrecking ball to the home that we once offered to refugees.”

Just three Conservative MPs – Mr Mitchell, ex-Brexit secretary David Davis and Simon Hoare, chair of the Northern Ireland Committee – voted against the offshoring plan.

Edward Leigh, a veteran Tory MP, urged the government to “hold the line” against the criticism, because of the “overwhelming number of people who want to come here”.

“If we don’t, it would have a catastrophic effect on race relations, because people would be angry about it,” he told the Commons.

“They would think ‘why did I vote Brexit when I can’t even control my own borders? What is the government doing?’.”

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