Last-ditch effort to block migrant camps on disused RAF bases

RAF Wethersfield could be used to house migrants - Carl Court/Getty Images
RAF Wethersfield could be used to house migrants - Carl Court/Getty Images

Plans to house migrants on disused military bases face a last-minute legal block, as the Government prepares to announce the end of using hotels for asylum seekers.

Local authorities responsible for two of the prime military sites in Essex and Lincolnshire signalled that they will seek High Court injunctions to prevent them from becoming camps for asylum seekers or migrants.

On Wednesday Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, is due to announce his proposals for the “beginning of the end” for asylum hotels, which are currently being used to house 51,000 migrants at a cost of nearly £7 million a day.

He will announce “several” sites, primarily thought to be former military bases.

As revealed by The Telegraph last weekend, ministers are also close to securing disused ferries to house asylum seekers from hotels and Channel migrants who reach the UK on small boats before the Illegal Migration Bill becomes law.

Ministers are expected to argue that the “decent but rudimentary” living conditions will meet the Government’s minimum legal obligations, while at the same time countering the “pull factor” of asylum hotels.

'Scandalous desecration of immeasurable recklessness'

The moves follow violent protests outside asylum hotels, where pro and anti-immigration groups have clashed. There has also been growing anger among Tory backbenchers at the impact of the use of hotels on over-stretched local services and economies.

However, Braintree council said on Tuesday night that it is applying to the High Court for an interim injunction. It alleges that using the former RAF Wethersfield base to house up to 1,500 migrants in refurbished barracks and portacabins breaches planning rules.

“We would expect such an application would be heard within seven days, and we expect the matter to be heard by the High Court before any asylum seekers are occupied on site,” said a council statement.

Opponents to the plan - who include James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary and Braintree MP - say the site is inappropriate because of its remote location, limited transport infrastructure, and narrow road network.

Meanwhile, in Lincolnshire, West Lindsey council was also locked in talks with its lawyers on Tuesday night, as it prepared to lodge an injunction or to seek a judicial review of any attempt to convert the 800-acre RAF Scampton site into an asylum centre.

The council was due to exchange contracts with the Ministry of Defence to take over the site on March 31 as part of a £300 million deal with a developer to turn it into an aerospace hub and national heritage centre.

However, the council now fears the scheme will be scuppered in what 40 leading historians have warned will be a “scandalous desecration of immeasurable recklessness”.

'Nobody has promised flights by the summer'

Under the plans, both RAF Scampton and RAF Wethersfield are each expected to house up to 5,000 single male migrants transferred from hotels over the space of a year. They would not be detained but free to come and go, with on-site medical and other facilities.

Proposals to use disused holiday camps and student accommodation have been put on hold by ministers.

However, ferries or cruise ships are judged a viable alternative, with sources citing other European countries’ approaches as no different to what the UK is now planning.

The Dutch, for example, use ships to house migrants, while the Scottish Government deployed disused cruise ships for Ukrainian refugees.

To avoid breaching international conventions on refugees, the vessels will have to be tethered or moored to land in docks, otherwise they could be classed as prison ships - raising the prospect of successful legal actions. Sites in the south-west of England and Liverpool are understood to be under consideration.

The moves came as Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, played down the prospect of the first deportation flights transporting migrants to Rwanda taking off this summer. They are currently suspended pending legal challenges before the Court of Appeal.

“Nobody has promised flights by the summer,” he said.

“What we have said is we will start flights as soon as we can after legal proceedings have completed.

“Ultimately we need to let the legal process play out and it's only once the legal process has been completed that we can practically start the flights.”