In a week when she had been planning to begin her bid to become prime minister, Home Secretary Priti Patel has instead been embarrassed by leaks condemning the “inexcusably awful” response to the refugee crisis and refuses to appear before the scrutiny committee.
Patel, who is also the MP for Witham, Essex, was scheduled to give evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee, but once again refused. Though the appearance is an obligation, she has now refused to appear since February.
Avalanche of criticism
The move comes as details emerge of the avalanche of criticism she and the Home Office have come under for their failures in handling the response to refugees crossing the Channel.
An independent review of the Border Force by Alex Downer, commissioned by Patel, called it “ineffective and possibly counter-productive”.
The review claims it is “struggling to get out of a cycle of crisis management” and lacks clear leadership. On dealing with small boats it concludes: “the overall approach … has been ineffective and possibly counter-productive”.
Meanwhile the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration calls it: “ineffective and inefficient, exposing gaps in security”.
Failures in security, data, equipment and performance
The report goes on to point out that, between September and January this year, 227 migrants absconded from ‘secure’ hotels, and only two thirds had had fingerprints or photos taken. The response to migrants crossing the Channel is “not good enough”, data is “inexcusably awful”, equipment “unreliable” and processes “do not work”.
As to plans to fly migrants to Rwanda, Patel was warned by her own officials of the country’s poor human rights record, and that “the fraud risk is very high”. The supposedly independent report had been submitted before publication to the Rwandan government for approval. Yet she repeatedly denied problems to the House of Commons, claiming Rwanda was safe “with an outstanding track record”.
Misleading the House
At the time she gave those reassurances she would have been aware of the evidence presented to her that this was not the case. It appears then that she may have been guilty of misleading the House.
This was bound to be brought up at the select committee hearing, which may explain Patel’s reluctance to face them. She proposed instead putting off the appearance until September. The committee refused and told her she was expected this week as scheduled. She still refused.
Yet her letter insists that “it is very important to me and my department that we continue facilitating the scrutiny function of the committee”.
Reluctance to face criticism part of a pattern
The reluctance to face interrogation or face the problems of her policies has become a pattern. She has not yet met a recently appointed chief inspector to discuss performance, cancelling six meetings to date. She also recently refused to take questions from her opposite number in the Commons, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper.
The catalogue of damning criticisms would have been an easy goal for Patel’s opponents in the Conservative leadership contest, which probably explains why she decided not to take part.
Leadership contenders support Rwanda plan
However, every candidate in the contest nevertheless committed themselves to Patel’s failing Rwanda plan, knowing this is a hot button for Tory members. None wanted to appear to be backsliding. This is in spite of their already knowing much of the evidence which showed the plan may be unworkable.
It is almost certainly an issue which will come up again during the Sunak-Truss debates. It will be interesting to see how far either candidate is prepared to support the plan now it has been so comprehensively debunked. No doubt their revised position would be that it could work if implemented competently.
So though it is difficult to see Patel returning to the Home Office under a new administration, the chaos she caused is likely to live on.