POLITICS

Theresa May Facing Fresh UK Border Passport Claims In Sunday Papers

13/11/2011 08:45 GMT | Updated 12/01/2012 10:12 GMT

Home Secretary Theresa May is under renewed pressure after a slew of fresh allegations of lapses at the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in the Sunday newspapers. The belegaured Tory cabinet minister remains under pressure by Labour and is expected to have her claims challenged by Brodie Clark, the official who was suspended and then resigned following claims he overstepped the mark in relaxing passport checks at UK points of entry.

The Sunday Telegraph claims that passport checks on British-registered coaches were relaxed years ago, a policy allegedly implemented under the previous Labour government.

The Telegraph says this happened upon entry into Dover. The paper doesn't know if it happened at any other ports, but believes the policy would have affected millions of journeys into Britain by ferry or the Channel Tunnel.

Meanwhile the Sunday Times carries reports from an anonymous UK Border official, who describes "chaos" at the agency charged with keeping illegal migrants and suspected terrorists out of the country. The official says cuts to staff numbers at UKBA had led to routine checks being dropped and "difficult" cases resulting in people simply being allowed to enter the country.

The official, described as a middle manger, also claims that the UKBA's various offices around the country had failed to keep track of asylum seekers who move around, with offices not bothering to take on new casework when it's handed from one UKBA team to another.

The allegations only add to the pressure on Theresa May, who last week faced three grillings by MPs over how much she knew about the relaxation of passport checks over the summer, which the Home Office has admitted led to an unknown number of illegal immigrants and terror suspects entering the UK.

The Home Secretary authorised a pilot scheme which saw the children of passengers with European passports not having the biometric chips in their documents being read. However the government line is that officials at UKBA went further than the terms of the pilot and routinely relaxed checks for other passengers. This led to the head of the UK Border Force, Brodie Clark, being suspended ten days ago. He subsequently resigned and is planning to sue the Home Office for constructive dismissal.

Theresa May had told the House of Commons that UKBA officials had asked for the terms of the pilot scheme to be expanded, but this had been rejected by her. The Home Secretary is claiming that despite having the request refused, UKBA officials went ahead and increased the relaxation of passport checks anyway.

This led to Brodie Clark releasing an explosive statement attacking Theresa May when he resigned. On Tuesday MPs will hear from Brodie Clark when he appears before the Home Affairs committee. This is expected to be the first time the former official will give a full account of his side of the story.

The chair of the Home Affairs select committee in the Commons, Keith Vaz, told Sky News on Sunday afternoon: "The fact is there is a serious problem with the way in which the UKBA has approached border security. This goes beyond this government and into the last government.

"What we now have is not just these allegations about British registered coaches, we also have allegations that people have been able to buy their own files to secure their entry to the United Kingdom.

"This story is not going to go away, but we need to focus on the organisation and the way the organisation has operated. We were told none of this."

Mr. Vaz said if Brodie Clark did not have access to government files to prove his case, he would call on the Home Office to release any such papers.

Labour is calling for an investigation at the Home Office, after sources from within the department briefed newspapers against Brodie Clark last weekend.

The Observer claimed on Sunday that Brodie Clark will tell MPs that he relaxed the passport checks on the advice of the police. The paper believes that Clark will also attack the chief executive of the UK Border Agency, Rob Whiteman, who is also due to give evidence on Tuesday.

Several times over the past week Theresa May has claimed that the pilot scheme she authorised was designed to install a more "intelligence-led" process of checking passports. However Labour have claimed that the scheme was introduced to manage cuts at UKBA, which is facing the loss of thousands of staff, including more than 1,000 front-line officials.