UK Border Agency Leaked Emails Show Passport Checks Relaxed 'Hundreds Of Times'
Border checks were relaxed hundreds of times at UK ports under a pilot scheme authorised by Home Secretary Theresa May this summer, according to figures.
Fresh evidence released by Labour also showed that passengers on private jets were let into the UK without even being seen by border officials.
The latest disclosures will put further pressure on the under-fire Home Secretary as the former head of the UK Border Force, who quit his post over the border checks row, prepares to be questioned by MPs on Tuesday.
Brodie Clark, 60, who resigned last week after a 40-year career in the Home Office, is expected to say he only acted to relax border checks because he was required to do so by the police to prevent overcrowding.
Leaked emails between UK Border Agency (UKBA) officials showed the controls were eased a total of 260 times in one week alone this summer.
Other leaked documents showed passengers on private jets were able to enter the UK without being seen by border officials, raising fears among staff that security was being compromised. Government estimates show there are between 80,000 and 90,000 private jet flights every year.
One UKBA official complained to managers about not even being "allowed to physically see the passengers", saying it was "at odds with national policy" and "is creating an unnecessary gap in border security", the emails showed.
Further leaked emails showed Mrs May's pilot scheme to relax border controls - referred to as level two checks - was used 260 times in the sixth week of the trial, the week ending September 16. This compared with 100 times in its first week and 165 in week nine, ending October 9.
Mr Clark has denied extending the scheme improperly and accused Mrs May of blaming him for "political convenience" last week, saying her comments were "wrong". He resigned to pursue a case of constructive dismissal which could lead to a payout of up to £135,000 after Mrs May was accused of hanging him out to dry over the controversy.
A UKBA spokeswoman said: "It is not true that we don't carry out passport and warnings index checks on private flight passengers and will deploy officers to airfields where we have concerns."
Well it's May's word against Clarke's for now. Pressure is likely to build on the government to disclose the emails and other documents which led to Brodie Clark's resignation, something it appears reluctant to do.
What's clear is that Brodie Clark, a prominent lifelong civil servant, is questioning the Home Secretary's integrity and competence.
For the Home Affairs committee, the challenge will be to get to the documents that prove or disprove what Clark has told them today. They seem determined to do this.
Minutes of meeting with Brodie Clark appear to be unavailable to the committee, as well as Brodie Clark's 'admission' email. They are going to an internal investigation by John Vine.
The committee seems unlikely to take this lying down. Nor will Labour.
...from the UKBA's website
Tory MP Mark Reckless wants to know why. Rob Whiteman didn't even know it had happened.
THERESA MAY has been slashed from 9/4 to 6/4 by William Hill to cease to be Home Secretary by the end of the year – and she has also been cut from 3/1 to 6/4 favourite to be the next Minister to leave the Cabinet. ‘Ms May’s long term prospects have not been helped at all by Brodie Clark’s comments today’ said Hill’s spokesman Graham Sharpe.
Meanwhile, Hills have opened a market on who will succeed Theresa May as Home Secretary and have installed Michael Gove as 6/4 favourite.
“At the same time as the Government admits it is so out of touch that Ministers don't know what is happening on our borders, we now learn the Home Office is publishing misleading statistics to keep the voters in the dark too. “There needs to be an urgent investigation by the Cabinet Secretary into whether there has been a breach of the Ministerial Code by either Damian Green or Theresa May. “Sir Michael’s letter is incredibly serious and brings into question the ‘highly selective’ use of statistics by Ministers. He says the fact and manner of the release ‘was irregular and inconsistent with the statutory Code of Practice and also with the Ministerial Code.’ “As he says in his letter, Ministers should 'bring forward publication of the official statistics to the earliest date possible'. We think the Government should publish its evaluation of the so-called 'pilot' now, so the public and Parliament can judge what the Home Secretary has done.
“While Ministers continue to obfuscate, real damage is being done to public confidence in what the Government is saying.”
Rob Whiteman very, very fuzzy on the details here. He says be didn't suggest Clark retire, but that it was discussed, but that Clarke didn't suggest retirement either.
Whiteman seems either unable or unwilling to outline exactly how these discussions panned out and MPs have given up asking.
" I did not suspend him lightly, but it was absolutely clear to me that ministers wanted fingerprint checks to be taken, and that had not been put into effect."
My very clear recollection was that I did not suggest Brodie Clark retire, I only offered it to him.
When challenged with Clark's comments that Whiteman offered the retirement, Whiteman says: "That is not my recollection."
|@ GuidoFawkes : May Day: No let up for Theresa May. Brodie Clark helpfully bought a big bucket and a hand-held fan to his appear... http://t.co/4VpXQzGQ|
Whiteman says after discussions with home office HR people, they decided not to offer the package after all. This apparently was vetoed by the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office.
Keith Vaz: Is that normal, for the most senior civil servant to veto like this?
Whiteman: It is.
Whiteman says he won't release the email from Brodie Clark admitting breaching ministerial wishes as a matter of course.
The committee, frankly, has gone mad as a box of frogs, Tories and Labour alike.
Whiteman says this is the procedure the government wants following. Keith Vaz has told him to go and reflect on that.
Whiteman says that Brodie Clark told him in early November that he had exceeded ministerial wishes by relaxing fingerprint checks.Whiteman says it was a "serious breach" of ministerial instruction, which did not fall within the health and safety rules outlined by Clark earlier.
Whiteman is new to the job, having started in the last week of September - so he only found out the pilot even existed when he started the job. But he found out about it very quickly. As you're expect.
Damian Green emphasises every private flight checked "against the warnings index" #opengate
This is his first ever appearance before the Home Affairs committee. What a way to start.
He leaves with two men in suits.
He is asked wether he relaxed border checks, outside the terms of the pilot or existing and long-standing health and safety rules.
Clark: I did not.
..but that should not be a problem, says Clarke. That is the basis of a good relationship.
Brodie Clark doesn't know who withdrew the retirement offer, only that there had been a 'change of mind'.
Immigration minister Damian Green is answering questions about the row, specifically the accusation that some passengers weren't even seen by UKBA officials.
Green told MPs:
"The border is safer now than it was two years ago," and "It is simply not true that immigration and customs checks for all private flights were abandoned under this Government."
It was 9 months pay, but it appears to have been given verbally. This would seem to be the basis of Brodie Clark's constructive dismissal case.
Extraordinary evidence Clark who says he accepted a retirement package from the Home Office, cleared his desk and went home, then was later told the retirement officer was withdrawn.
HuffpostUk is no employment lawyer.... But seriously!
Clark says the head of UKBA Rob Whiteman suspended him verbally, then offered him retirement and suggested he took it.
Clark was offered "a package and a good reference".
There are emails on a Home Office computer which Clark says would account for much of his case.
Clark says he built up a reputation over forty years, and in two days that was destroyed, mostly by the actions of the Home Secretary.
Michael Ellis is trying to get at whether the home secretary vetoed the abandoning of fingerprint checks as part of the pilot. She did, but the Tory MP thinks Clark abandoned them anyway
Clark's defence is that for health and safety reasons (ie overcrowded arrivals halls) sometimes fingerprint checks had been dropped long before the pilot. The explanation for this, says Clark, is that fingerprints were the less reliable of the checks. But he claims that the Warnings List was never dispenses with.
It is central to Clark's defence that there are two issues - the process of speeding up checks to avoid arrivals halls becoming overcrowded, which pre-dates the pilot, and the pilot itself.
What is going to become a running theme in this row , now, is what happened and for which of these two reasons.
Clearly the Tory MP and ex barrister is going to give the harshest of the questionning. Not sure if it's working because Clark remains calm and quiet, while Ellis basically shouts.
Keith Vaz looks fed up with Ellis as well , who keeps interrupting Clark.
"I think it was due to the belief that I had extended the pilot in some way."
Clark says he has been a civil servant for 38 years and has been in a senior position for 15 years. He was given a distinction for his work last year and has not been disciplined in the past. "absolutely never".
These are questions from David Winnick. How does Clark feel now his reputation has been tarnished?
Clark: You can only imagine. It is something that has hugely taken over my life. I cannot move outside of my house for reporters. I have had newspapers hounding me. I have had taxi drivers trying to take my photograph. I can cope with it, because it comes with the job.
I accept that for myself, but not for my family
David Winnick: Would you have had any reason to go beyond what the Home Secretary had authorised?
Clark: I wanted the pilot to be a success, I wanted a safer country, that is in my DNA. I was meticulous.
Steve McCabe wants to know if it's just crossed wires.
Brodie Clarke: No.
He says he would find it hard to imagine that Theresa May would have been confused about what the pilot involved.
|@ DanielBoffey : Clark is being very clear and calm. Theresa May may well have picked on the wrong chap.|