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An MP has written to the home secretary after a committee discovered 56 asylum seekers, including babies and young children, “packed into a small waiting room” at an intake unit.

Chair of the home affairs select committee Yvette Cooper said in a letter to Priti Patel that she was writing to “raise serious concerns about the shocking conditions” found by MPs during a visit to the Kent Intake Unit in Dover.

The facility, where “detained asylum seekers wait for onward placement and screening”, was described as “wholly inappropriate” by the MP.

Letter from Yvette Cooper to the home secretary
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Yvette Cooper has written to the home secretary

She wrote: “There were 56 people packed into the small waiting room. The space is clearly unfit for holding this many people.

“Most people were sitting or lying on a thin mattress and those covered almost the entirety of the aisle between seats.

“Sharing these cramped conditions were many women with babies and very young children alongside significant numbers of teenage and young adult men”, she added.

The MPs also found that despite 24 hours being the “maximum period of time” a person should be held in the holding room, some had been kept there for “periods of up to 36 and 48 hours”.

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Yvette Cooper MP
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Yvette Cooper said the facility was ‘wholly inappropriate’

Concerns about COVID-19 outbreaks have been raised as well, with Yvette Cooper saying in her letter that MPs saw the holding room had “no ventilation, no social distancing and face masks are not worn”.

According to the MP, adult asylum seekers must have a lateral flow test and receive a negative result before entering the intake unit.

“However, it is well known that lateral flow tests are not 100% accurate and will not pick up cases that develop over the subsequent 48 hours,” she said.

The committee also said it “did not observe any COVID-19 mitigation measures” and “could not see how the facility could be COVID safe” given the levels of overcrowding.

The MPs went on to visit the atrium facility as well, “where people wait when they are no longer in detention and awaiting onward travel”.

In the letter, it is described as “essentially an office space with a large central room and several adjoining offices”.

In June this year, Kent County Council stopped accepting unaccompanied child migrants and MPs heard that since then there have been “five stays of over 200 hours (10 days) in this office space and increasing numbers of multiple-day stays.”

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Migrants rescued from dinghy in Channel

Ms Cooper noted that the permanent secretary had confirmed to the committee that an unaccompanied child was one of the individuals held in the facility for over 10 days.

She added: “One girl was sleeping on a sofa in an office, as the only available separate sleeping accommodation.

“For children, this kind of accommodation for days on end is completely inappropriate”.

“It is extremely troubling that a situation has been allowed to arise, and persist, where vulnerable children, families and young people are being held in this manifestly inappropriate office space for days and even weeks.”

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New laws threaten asylum seekers

Over 170 children have been transferred from Kent to another local authority since 14 June 2021.

A government spokesperson said: “The asylum system is being exploited by criminal gangs who facilitate dangerous, unnecessary and illegal small boat crossings.

“Our Nationality and Borders bill will fix this broken system and deter these dangerous and illegal crossings.

“To meet our legal duties temporary accommodation is being used to house asylum-seeking children in safe and secure accommodation before placements can take place through the National Transfer Scheme.

“The Home Office continue to work with all local authorities as well as the Department for Education to ensure needs are met.”

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Sir Keir Starmer faces possible probe over claims he put pressure on Speaker over Gaza debate

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Sir Keir Starmer faces possible probe over claims he put pressure on Speaker over Gaza debate

Sir Keir Starmer is facing a possible parliamentary investigation over allegations he put pressure on the Speaker in a debate on Gaza last week.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle is facing a backlash for allowing a vote on a Labour amendment to an SNP motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Parliamentary convention dictates that there would usually only be a government amendment to an opposition motion, but Sir Lindsay said he selected the Labour amendment to allow as broad a debate as possible.

However, critics within the SNP and the Conservatives have claimed he bowed to pressure from the Labour Party to select the amendment with the aim of staving off a potential rebellion among its MPs who could have voted for the SNP motion if denied the opportunity to vote on their own.

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Following the outcry, reports circulated that Sir Keir had put pressure on Sir Lindsay, a Labour MP before taking on the Speaker role, to select his party’s amendment in order to stave off a potential rebellion – thus bringing his impartiality into question.

While Sir Keir has “categorically” denied the claims, Sky News has learned that the Commons leader, Penny Mordaunt, believes there could have been a “breach of privilege” and an investigation is one of a number of potential options being considered.

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Asked on Monday if he regretted the way things had panned out, the Labour leader said: “My focus is on the awful situation in Gaza. Not the parliamentary process, the awful situation.

“And we all want to see an end to the thousands of people being killed in Gaza. We want to see those hostages out, and we want a pathway to a peaceful settlement.”

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Starmer denies threatening Speaker

Sir Lindsay has also rejected accusations he was put under pressure by Labour and has insisted the safety of MPs was the main reason for his move. He later issued an emotional apology admitting he had made a “mistake”.

On the prospect of a privileges committee probe – first reported by the Times – a Labour spokesperson said it was “desperate stuff from a Tory party trying to distract from their own troubles by repeating lies about Keir Starmer”.

Sir Lindsay is facing a battle to save his job following the debacle, which has led to the SNP – the third largest party in the Commons – losing confidence in him.

A total of 81 SNP and Conservative MPs have now signed a petition of no confidence in Sir Lindsay.

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‘I have a duty of care to protect’

The SNP’s anger was stoked further when the Speaker rejected an application from the SNP for an emergency debate over a ceasefire in Gaza – something Sir Lindsay himself had proposed as an olive branch following the scenes last week.

Sir Lindsay said the government planned to “make a relevant statement” around the situation in Gaza on Tuesday, meaning there would be a “very relevant opportunity for this matter to come before the House”.

But the SNP’s Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, accused parliament of “failing the people of Gaza by blocking a vote on the urgent actions the UK government must take to help make an immediate ceasefire happen”.

“The Speaker broke the rules last week – and this week he has broken his word,” he said.

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SNP: Speaker’s position is ‘untenable’

“How can MPs have any trust in the Speaker when he makes a public commitment one minute, only to rip it up the next?

“If 30,000 dead Palestinians aren’t worthy of an emergency debate, what is?”

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Labour’s role in last week’s saga came back into focus this week following an interview shadow minister Chris Bryant gave on Channel 4 News, in which he admitted to filibustering – a delaying tactic – ahead of the opposition day debate to allow Sir Keir and the Speaker time to talk.

The SNP’s Kirsty Blackman said Starmer’s party had been “caught red-handed following the admission by Chris Bryant”.

“There must now be a full, independent investigation into the appalling behaviour of Keir Starmer and his colleagues, who are no better than the Tories when it comes to manipulating the broken Westminster system,” she said.

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MPs set to debate Gaza ceasefire again as SNP take up Speaker’s offer after Commons chaos

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MPs set to debate Gaza ceasefire again as SNP take up Speaker's offer after Commons chaos

MPs are set to hold another debate on a ceasefire in Gaza after the SNP said it would take up the Speaker’s offer following last week’s chaotic scenes in parliament.

It comes after Sir Lindsay Hoyle faced a backlash last week for breaching convention by allowing a vote on a Labour amendment to an SNP opposition motion calling for an immediate halt to the fighting.

His move was interpreted by critics as an “overtly political decision” designed to help Sir Keir Starmer fend off a rebellion from his own backbenchers, and there were angry scenes as both SNP and Conservative MPs stormed out of the Commons chamber in protest.

Sir Lindsay denied the claims and insisted the safety of MPs was the main reason for his move.

But he apologised twice and offered to grant an emergency debate on a fresh ceasefire motion in acknowledgement that MPs never got a chance to vote on the SNP’s amendment amid the chaos.

The party’s wording last week called for the release of all hostages held by Hamas, but also accused Israel of the war crime of “collective punishment” of the Palestinian people – which Labour’s amendment did not do.

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What happened in the House of Commons?

On Sunday the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn confirmed he would take up the debate offer and table a motion this week that will press the Commons to back “concrete actions” to achieve an end to the fighting via pressure at the United Nations.

He said: “More than 29,000 Palestinian children, women and men have been killed, huge swathes of Gaza have been obliterated, and the population faces a worsening humanitarian crisis.

“The SNP will seek to refocus the discussion away from the Westminster circus and on to what really matters – doing everything we can to actually secure an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel.”

Mr Flynn added: “While the appalling spectacle at Westminster has been deeply unedifying, some progress has been made. Public and SNP pressure has forced the next prime minister, Sir Keir Starmer, into a U-turn – now we need to work together to force the UK government to change its position too.”

The SNP said it would publish details of its new motion following discussions with the Speaker on the terms of the debate.

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However, it is not clear what the format of the debate will be and if the SNP will be allowed to force a vote.

Sir Lindsay’s offer on Thursday came under the Standing Order 24 rule of the Commons – which grants an emergency debate for MPs to “consider” a topic – which may not be enough to satisfy the party.

More than 70 MPs have signed a no confidence motion in Sir Lindsay following last week’s scenes.

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Speaker sorry over ceasefire vote

Critics of the Speaker included Mr Flynn, who said last week that his position was “untenable” and said he “no longer retains the confidence of SNP MPs”.

Meanwhile a fresh debate on the issue could renew and heighten divisions within Labour over its stance on the war.

Labour’s amendment last week called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” but avoided accusing Israel of war crimes.

Israel has faced growing criticism of its actions in Gaza and there are fears over civilian causalities if it launches a ground offensive in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, where around 1.4 million Palestinians have sought refuge.

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Gaza: Moment crowds flee as gunfire heard

More than 29,000 Palestinians have died, according to the Hamas-run healthy ministry in the region, since Israel launched its latest military action in Gaza last year.

It came following Hamas’s attack on 7 October, in which around 1,200 people were killed, including more than 800 civilians, according to Israeli officials.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) last month called on Israel to do everything in its power to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza – but stopped short of ordering an end to its offensive.

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Tory MPs believe Lee Anderson suspension was a mistake, leaked WhatsApps reveal

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Tory MPs believe Lee Anderson suspension was a mistake, leaked WhatsApps reveal

Tory MPs have complained that suspending Lee Anderson may have been a mistake, WhatsApp messages leaked to Sky News have revealed.

After one of the most toxic weeks in Westminster, the Sky News and Politico podcast, Politics at Jack and Sam’s, examines the attitude of all sides to the controversies of the last few days.

The future of Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, remains in the balance – the podcast explains – while both Labour and Tory MPs have got increasingly trenchant in their views ahead of a by-election in Rochdale this Friday which could see George Galloway elected.

Rishi Sunak suspended Mr Anderson on Saturday after the former Tory deputy chair failed to apologise for telling GB News that the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had “given our capital city away to his mates”.

Simon Hart, the Tory chief whip, suspended him the next day.

As part of this, the podcast exclusively obtained WhatsApp messages in which Tory MPs complain that the suspension of the high-profile Tory MP is the “final nail in the coffin” and will harm support.

The WhatsApp forum is called the “109 group” of Tory MPs elected in 2019.

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Julie Marson shared a news story showing Nigel Farage calling on “cancelled” Lee Anderson to join the Reform party and “destroy” the Tories.

Her colleague Tom Hunt replied: “This isn’t good at all.”

Jill Mortimer shared messages from constituents saying that they would not vote Tory again and that “Lee Anderson’s suspension is the final nail in the party’s coffin”.

Sarah Dines reinforced this, saying she’s had “loads” of similar messages from “random” constituents, not known supporters.

Sarah Atherton said she’d lodged her concerns about Mr Anderson “due to an instant backlash from members”.

Peter Gibson then says the “inbox [is] very positive for Lee”.

Mr Farage, the founder of Reform, has said that Mr Anderson should defect to the party but Richard Tice, the current leader, pointed out that Mr Farage is not the leader.

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