Shelving of Yorkshire asylum centre raises questions about policy – and Patel

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA</span>
Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

The decision to halt plans to set up a processing centre for asylum seekers in a small Yorkshire village has raised key questions for the next prime minister.

Should they stick with Boris Johnson’s struggling new plan for immigration? And should Priti Patel remain as the home secretary?

In the spring, Johnson announced the policy paper spearheaded by two key proposals: to send thousands of asylum seekers coming across the Channel to Rwanda; and to set up a new efficient ‘one-stop shop’ to process new arrivals to the UK claiming asylum.

Ministers wanted an alternative to hotel accommodation, which was expensive and could too easily be portrayed as being “cushy” by right-leaning commentators.

Although the Home Office did not reveal how much setting up the centre at Linton-on-Ouse might cost, officials said a self-contained reception centre would represent better value for money than hotels.

Johnson told reporters that the plan to set up a new centre at the former RAF base in North Yorkshire was pivotal to delivering the government’s Rwanda deal and stopping deaths of refugees in the Channel.

“You can’t do the Rwanda immigration and economic partnership unless you have some arrangement of this kind, some reception centre somewhere,” he said.

But fellow Conservatives, even those supportive of the Rwanda plan, were horrified. Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk and Malton who represents Linton-on-Ouse, told LBC in May that the announcement had been made based solely on the RAF site being available when the announcement needed to be made “to coincide with the Rwanda policy announcement”.

Ten weeks later, no asylum seekers have yet been sent to Rwanda and the policy will be subjected to a judicial review in the autumn.

Home Office sources say that officials are expected to pursue a Greek-style asylum reception centre. Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, held out the possibility that four other unused MoD properties could still be used when announcing the Linton plan had been shelved.

Ministers have shrugged off criticisms from organisations such as the World Health Organization, which has claimed that immigration detention centres break international law. But so far, the successfully implemented parts of the government’s “new plan for immigration” are not headline grabbers.

Officials have delivered a new casework system that redefines the treatment of those arriving in the UK between those who come via a “safe and legal route” and those who do not.

But whether Patel can weather another failed immigration announcement is another matter.

She faced a barrage of criticism in March over her department’s handling of the Ukraine crisis. Her former allies on the right of the Conservative party have grown increasingly exasperated by promised initiatives – such as pushing migrant boats in the Channel back towards France – that never materialised.