Plans to house up to 1,500 asylum seekers at a former RAF base in the north of England has been axed in another immigration policy u-turn by Conservative ministers.
UK defense secretary, Ben Wallace, confirmed that plans to set up the reception center in the North of Yorkshire, have been shelved by the government.
The move comes after a legal challenge and strong opposition by local residents and Conservative activists, as well as the two Conservative candidates campaigning to be prime minister. Both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have opposed the plans to set up the center in Linton-on-Ouse, a small village in the north of England.
The decision is another blow to home secretary, Priti Patel, who announced the proposals to transfer migrants to a new center from hotel accommodation, which reportedly costs the taxpayer almost £5 million (€5.9 million) a day.
Sunak and Truss oppose plans
After announcing the withdrawal of the plan, Wallace explained that the decision was taken by the Defense Department not by the Home Office. He also criticized Sunak in a televised interview on Tuesday for refusing to support the proposal, telling ITV News: "He didn’t oppose it when he was in government so it's a new surprise. But because he’s not in government, he won’t know what's been going on and I’ve withdrawn the offer to the Home office for that site. It’s been with them for a number of months."
He added that four other Ministry of Defense sites have also been offered to the Home Office for the same purpose "if they want to take it up."
After the plans were announced in April, residents of Linton-on-Ouse, which has a population of about 700, accused ministers of "dropping a bomb" on the community. Local Tory MP, Kevin Hollinrake, claimed residents would not be safe "leaving their homes alone."
Speaking to theYorkshire Post Sunak, claimed the plans were "not appropriate," adding that the plan "clearly does not have local support and I am concerned that the availability of the site has taken precedence over its suitability. That is why I will ask my home secretary to review the plans so that an alternative solution can be found."
Truss, who is standing against Sunak in the leadership race, has also said that it is her understanding that the proposed center is "not going ahead."
Also read: UK: 'Tough measures' on immigration promised by both PM hopefuls
Legal challenges and strong opposition from local residents
Nicola David, a campaigner against the plans, told The Guardian: that the plan has been tarnished with legal challenges and robust opposition from the refugee charity sector, as well as local residents. She also accused the Home Office of having "a complete lack of common sense and compassion."
Speaking to The Guardian, Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council in the UK expressed his relief at the withdrawal of the government plans "to house people who have fled war, conflict and persecution" in the former RAF site in Linton-on-Ouse. Adding that "it shouldn’t have taken an overwhelming public backlash and months and months of incredible campaigning for government to come to this decision."
According to The Guardian some contractors, including catering staff, who were due to start work on the site have reportedly been told to stay at home, but have been placed on full pay because the site has not now opened for asylum seekers.
'New plan for immigration'
The proposals for the reception center were outlined as part of the government's "new plan for immigration," by outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Patel in April, with the aim of processing asylum claims more efficiently and at a lower cost.
The Permanent Secretary to the Home Office, Patricia Hayes, confirmed that there were 37,000 additional asylum seekers in hotel accommodation in the UK. Although hotel accommodation is supposed to be temporary, more than 300 people have been living in hotel rooms for a year, and nearly 3,000 for more than six months.
The Linton-on-Ouse scheme proposed to house men seeking asylum at the center on a temporary basis while their applications were processed on-site, with the aim that applicants would live on the base for no more than six months.
A government spokesperson told The Guardian the government will continue to identify appropriate sites for "Greek-style asylum reception centers," in line with its aim of tackling "illegal migration."
Although Sunak and Truss have rejected the plans for Linton-on-Ouse, they both have publicly backed proposals for the controversial Rwanda asylum scheme, which aims to outsource the processing of asylum claims from the UK to the East African country.