Foreign Secretary defends opposition to plans for migrant centre

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly defends his opposition to plans for migrant detention centre on old RAF base in his Essex constituency

  • Base at Wethersfield North Essex currently used by Ministry of Defence Police
  • Been earmarked to hold 1,500 migrants in face of significant local opposition
  • READ MORE: Thousands of migrants in hotels could be moved to RAF bases

The Foreign Secretary has defended his opposition to Home Office proposals to build a new migrant detention centre on a former RAF base in his constituency.

The base at Wethersfield in North Essex, currently used by the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP), has been earmarked to hold 1,500 migrants in the face of significant local opposition that the facility would not be suitable.

Earlier this week James Cleverly, who is both Foreign Secretary and the local MP, backed arguments from council leaders and residents’ groups that the site ‘wasn’t appropriate for asylum accomodation’ due to its remote location and lack of surrounding infrastructure.

Yesterday the minister, who was in Paris with Rishi Sunak to push the French government to intensify their efforts to stop people crossing the Channel, said it was ‘absolutely right’ to make his thoughts known to the Home Office.

Mr Cleverly, the MP for Braintree, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘I made the point about the practicalities of MDP Wethersfield in my constituency which is very remote from any other social infrastructure.

Earlier this week James Cleverly (pictured), who is both Foreign Secretary and the local MP, backed arguments from council leaders and residents’ groups that the site ‘wasn’t appropriate for asylum accomodation’ due to its remote location and lack of surrounding infrastructure

‘We are going to be looking at a range of places and I put my thoughts forward. Ultimately no decision has been made and I will continue to support the work of my good friends in the Home Office to make sure we get a grip of the situation.

‘It’s absolutely right we pass comment on the practicalities of individual proposals – but the broad point is we will continue to work with the French authorities and other countries to break this most evil of business models in people smuggling.’

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Braintree council leader Graham Butland said the remote location meant MDP Wethersfield should not be on the table as a migrant facility.

‘That makes Wethersfield even more unsuitable because it’s not linked to a town or anything like that,’ he said.

Mark Ault, of the Fields Association campaign group, said: ‘We should be integrating asylum seekers into the community, but there’s nowhere to integrate them into here. It’s totally inappropriate – it’s inhumane.’

The Foreign Secretary raised eyebrows when he appeared to oppose the Home Office’s wishes to house migrants at the ex-RAF base.

He said earlier this week: ‘I highlighted the remote nature of the site, the limited transport infrastructure and narrow road network and that these factors would mean the site wasn’t appropriate for asylum accommodation.

‘Ultimately we need to dramatically reduce the numbers of people attempting to enter the country.

‘The whole of Government is working to stop evil people traffickers from exploiting the vulnerable to make money and ensure our immigration system supports the people who do the right thing and play by the rules.’

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman refused to comment on the row, but said: ‘What we are focused on as a government is tackling this issue, tackling the fact that we have so many people housed in hotels, at a daily cost of £6 million to the taxpayer, and the Home Office is working to provide more detention capacity for those that we are looking to remove.’

‘I think it’s also important to reference that one of the specific core parts of the bill is to make sure that we’re removing people faster once the bill is being passed, so people would be removed within weeks rather months and years, but the Home Office are taking forward work to increase the detention capacity.’

The Home Office refused to comment on individual proposals, but a spokesman said: ‘We are working across government and with local authorities to look at a range of options and sites, all of which will be in line with building regulations and health and safety.’

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