Good morning Ms Patel. Please take a seat. I’d like to have a chat with you about the broken immigration system. Coffee? Tea? Milk and sugar? And please - let’s be truthful. Smiley face. Prayer icon. Thanks so much!

Let’s start with asylum seekers in hotels. They are protected from COVID-19 at the expense of Her Majesty’s Government I understand. Housed, fed and watered, with full consideration for their welfare. What a decent nation we are.

It’s an old chestnut, I know, but “how would you feel?” is often a good place to start. So I ask: How would you feel if one of these was your dinner?

Let me add – without hurting your feelings, I hope – that you are in a run-down establishment known as a hotel. This isn’t like the hotels you know. The staff don’t like or respect you; they believe asylum seekers should go back to their countries. The place has gone to rack and ruin and no-one plans to do anything about it. Paint is peeling off your walls, plumbing comes and goes, and your room is hardly larger than your bed. To circumnavigate your space, you must squeeze and bend. This is where you must spend 23 hours a day. If you don’t, staff will threaten in a jeering tone to report your ‘misbehaviour’ to the Home Office. Their report (they say) will be accompanied by a recommendation: your case should be thrown out. 

Some background information, if I may. Some years ago (please imagine) you were imprisoned in your country for defending democracy and fighting government corruption and abuse. You were under a sentence of death. You escaped and made a treacherous journey. You were robbed by the agents who transported you and arrived with no more than the clothes on your back. You were relieved to set foot on British soil (Brits have a reputation for fairness and decency, do they not?) and felt lucky to be alive, to be here.

One more thing – until a few years ago you were valued citizen of your country. Let’s say you were a doctor.

Back to my question. How would you feel if you were this unfortunate doctor?

While you’re thinking about that, let me remind you of something you said in October last year. You promised to fix our broken asylum system and make it "firm and fair". Interesting, then, that a spokesperson from your very own Home Office, shown photos of hotel food for asylum seekers and told of their complaints, said: “We do not recognise these claims. Three meals a day are provided, and the nutritional content is in line with NHS Eatwell guidelines.”

Eatwell guidelines? Of course, you are aware of these. Here’s a jolly image showing the fruit and vegetables five portions of which they recommend daily:

Apart from a small carton of long-life orange juice, you may notice that these lovely colours aren’t actually in the photos above. There’s more great food on the Eatwell website. For example:

Note the fresh fish (it looks like mackerel and salmon), fresh chicken and lean beef. Very nice, but sadly absent from our asylum seekers’ diets. I don’t know about you, Ms Patel, but personally I avoid too much processed food. Hotel food for asylum seekers includes little else, and curiously (given the law in this country), much of it is unlabelled. If they eat it (frankly, many cannot), they have no idea what are eating.

When labels are attached, they boast more E numbers than fresh anything. Here’s an example of ‘dinner’:

Eatwell recommends ‘high fibre wholegrain’ wherever possible, but our asylum seeker friends – pregnant women and children included – are expected to survive on a diet of white rice, bread and pasta. Of course, they can supplement their diets. In addition to ‘full board’, they receive the handsome sum of £8 a week from the government.

And by the way (you may not quite see this from the photos), much of the food is rancid or congealed. It’s likely to be cold. The plastic cartons, intended for microwaves, are normally unaccompanied by microwave access.

C’mon, Ms Patel. You promised to be truthful. Home Office policy is firm, I agree, but would you call it fair? Would it be fair if you were on their side of the fence? Or would you too be sick, hungry, desperate? In their position, would you point fingers at what you call ‘lefty lawyers’ with their ‘grand theories about human rights’?

Fair, decent Britain. It’s a beautiful fantasy, isn’t it?