Former home secretary Dame Priti Patel has accused her former department of being “evasive” and “secretive” over how long it plans to use a former RAF base to house asylum seekers.
In a letter to her successor Suella Braverman and the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, earlier on Monday, Dame Priti wrote that the “lack of clarity” over how long the government plans to house asylum seekers at the former base in Wethersfield, Essex, “has been alarming and staggering”.
The site near Dame Priti’s Witham constituency has been earmarked to house 1,700 asylum seekers by the autumn as part of plans to reduce spending on hotels, with the first residents having arrived in July.
RAF Wethersfield is one of a number of former military sites earmarked for housing asylum seekers, alongside the Bibby Stockholm barge which was evacuated on Friday after legionella bacteria was found in the water supply.
In the letter posted to X, formerly Twitter, the former home secretary said that when it was announced on 29 March that the site would be used for asylum seekers, the length of time it would be used was not stated.
She said reports the site would need to be used for five years to achieve value for money for the taxpayer was “concerning”, and said “no clarity has been provided” in subsequent discussions between Home Office officials and local partners.
Citing three written parliamentary questions on the topic submitted back in June, she said the failure to provide direct answers “gives the impressions the Home Office is being evasive” and “suggests that the government is being secretive about its intentions”.
She added: “Clear answers now need to be provided by the Home Office and the government must be transparent rather than evasive. The lack of clarity has been alarming and staggering.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Delivering accommodation on surplus military sites will provide cheaper and more orderly, suitable accommodation for those arriving in small boats whilst helping to reduce the use of hotels.
“These accommodation sites will house asylum seekers in basic, safe and secure accommodation as they await a decision on their claim.
“In the case of Wethersfield, the Home Office has obtained planning permission to use the site for 12 months.
“We understand the concerns of local communities and will work closely with councils and key partners to manage the impact of using these sites, including liaising with local police to make sure appropriate arrangements are in place.”
The department said it intended to reply to Dame Priti’s letter to the home secretary “in due course”.