Theresa May blames senior officials for UK border crisis


PASSENGERS ARRIVING at British air and seaports can expect significant delays at passport checks, following the suspension of senior immigration officials who ordered staff not to cross-check fingerprints and other information against a security database.

Home secretary Theresa May laid the blame for the crisis firmly at the door of the border force chief Brodie Clark, who was suspended on Friday.

Facing questions in the House of Commons yesterday, Mrs May said she had sanctioned a pilot programme in July that would exempt from biometric checks EU travellers, and children from outside the European Economic Area travelling with families or in school groups. However, she said, Brodie Clark “authorised the wider relaxation of border controls without ministerial sanction”, effectively allowing hundreds of thousands to enter Britain without vital checks.

“As a result of these unauthorised actions, we will never know how many people entered the country who should have been prevented from doing so after being flagged by the warnings index,” she said.

Officers were to have some discretion, she acknowledged, but they were told that “border security would be stronger with more risk-based checks and fewer mandatory checks than with more mandatory checks on low-risk passengers and fewer risk-based checks for high-risk passengers”.

Two other border force officials have also been suspended, Mrs May told MPs. The home secretary’s own position is not under threat given prime minister David Cameron’s decision to sit alongside her as she dealt with questions from MPs.

The programme approved by her, she said, was designed to improve the security of the UK’s borders by targeting the border agency’s budget at those that officials, acting on intelligence, believed posed the greater risk.

Mrs May, clearly bitterly angry with Mr Clark, said: “The vast majority of those officers are hard-working, dedicated public servants. Just like all of us, they want to see tough immigration controls and strong enforcement.

“But they have been let down by senior officials at the head of the organisation who put at risk the security of our border. Our task now is to make sure that those responsible are punished,” she said.

The venom directed at Mr Brodie was illustrated by the home office’s decision “to plant” questions with Conservative MPs it wanted asked of the home secretary. One such question was: “Will anyone who put borders at risk be prosecuted?” That suggestion was not taken up.

However, the Public Commercial and Services union, which represents many border force staff, complained that immigration officials were facing budget cuts and job losses, demands from government and airlines for speedy immigration, while passengers were angry if there were delays. Since October 2010, 2,300 jobs (around 10 per cent of the workforce) have been cut from the UK Border Agency, with another 3,000 planned to go by 2014/15. This includes 500 already cut from UK Border Force and plans to cut 500 more by 2014/15,” said the union.