uella Braverman’s immigration plans are facing another legal battle after councils and campaigners were given the green light to bring a High Court challenge against housing migrants on disused airfields.
The ruling comes just two days after the Home Secretary’s department moved asylum seekers on to Wethersfield Airfield for the first time.
Braintree District Council and a nearby resident are bringing legal action to challenge the use of the Essex airfield to house up to 1,700 men while West Lindsey District Council is challenging similar plans for RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire.
The development, which comes just two weeks after the Court of Appeal ruling on the Rwanda deal, may be seen by some as another setback in the Government’s plan to “stop the boats” and overhaul the asylum system.
We are grateful to have had another opportunity to put our views and the views of our local community across to the High Court at this initial stage
But the threshold for permission to bring forward a High Court challenge is low and an early stage in a judicial review claim.
During a two-day hearing in London this week, the councils and Gabriel Clarke-Holland made a bid to bring a full legal challenge in their claims against the Home Office.
In a ruling on Friday, Mrs Justice Thornton ruled in their favour, granting permission to both councils and Mr Clarke-Holland.
She said: “The decision to accommodate asylum seekers on the sites may give rise to strong local opinion,” adding that there may also be wider discussions about the welfare of the asylum seekers.
“Those are not, however, matters for the court,” the judge continued.
The decision comes after the first 46 asylum seekers arrived at Wethersfield Airfield, around eight miles from Braintree, on Wednesday.
Alex Goodman KC, for Mr Clarke-Holland – who lives approximately 80ft from a gate on to the airfield – said members of the right-wing group Britain First were protesting near his home on the morning of the arrivals.
Following the ruling, Graham Butland, leader of Braintree District Council, said: “We are grateful to have had another opportunity to put our views and the views of our local community across to the High Court at this initial stage, as we still believe Wethersfield Airfield is not a suitable site for these plans.”
He continued: “We’ll continue to work closely with the Home Office and multi-agency partners to ensure there is minimal impact on all those involved residents that live nearby and local services, as well as raising our concerns with the Home Office so it can put in place mitigating action, whilst supporting asylum seekers coming to our district.
“We will also continue to push for regular, open and transparent engagement with the wider community, which to date we feel has been lacking and creating frustrations quite rightly for our residents and businesses who have been left with a void of information.”
West Lindsey District Council leader Trevor Young said: “I welcome today’s judgment, which I hope the community will take as a positive in that it clearly shows we have a case.
“However, as we have seen at other large sites across the country and in particular at Wethersfield, the Home Office is continuing to press ahead with its plans to use larger sites for asylum accommodation.
“Therefore, our challenge is to continue to balance our legal process with our duty of care as a local authority, to hold the Home Office to account on their proposals, as we have been doing since March.”
On Thursday the Government was given the go-ahead to take its legal battle over its Rwanda deportation policy to the Supreme Court.
The move was welcomed by Mrs Braverman, who reiterated her belief that the plan is “lawful”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had indicated he would seek an appeal as he “fundamentally” disagreed with the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the multimillion-pound deal – which would see asylum seekers deported to the East African nation – was unlawful.