THE BLOG

Devious Manipulations, Dishonest Politics, Border Security And Theresa May

04/05/2017 12:31 BST | Updated 04/05/2017 12:31 BST
POOL New / Reuters

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This from November 2014

Bank holiday Sunday morning saw two stories in two national papers which should have featured prominently in TV national news bulletins throughout the day with the debate continuing into the Monday.

There is little doubt that the 'tipping point' in the Brexit referendum were the vexed issues surrounding immigration/migration therefore in this subsequent election campaign logic suggests that these same issues would play a prominent part.

The fact that Theresa May and her government has apparently sought to conceal a report which deals with a weakness that could be exploited by both terrorists and other criminal groups, should warrant an explosion of indignation across the media.

These nefarious goings on at the heart of government, exposed by Sunday Times journalist Tom Harper, were tucked away on page 14 of that esteemed publication. The story revealed that a report published by the independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt, stated that the United Kingdom's east coast was vulnerable due to inadequate border controls.

The vulnerability of the east coast has been raised before and indeed most front line UK Border Force officers would say that the UK's Border Controls are vulnerable across the board due to cutbacks and poor management.

What makes this report significantly more sinister is that it's being deliberately held back so as not to generate negative publicity for the government as the general election approaches.

This, disturbingly, wouldn't be the first occasion reports concerning borders by the Chief Inspector have been held back or tampered with. David Bolt's predecessor John Vine also found that his publications were being delayed or paragraphs redacted on dubious security grounds.

Shortly before the 2015 General Election, towards the end of her last routine appearance in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Home Secretary Theresa May was rebuked by committee chairman Keith Vaz, for failing to release critical reports compiled by John Vine's inspectorate. She promised to release them before the election but as with this current report, they were buried in the pre-election furore.

Burying bad news is of course a tried and tested technique amongst those in government yet to wantonly conceal bad news in the run up to elections is surely an affront to the democratic process and, frankly, in its starkest terms, amounts to cheating.

Don't Look at Those, Look at These.

But what of the other 'borders' story which emerged on Sunday. The Mail on Sunday's Martin Beckford produced a remarkable story which stated that the new deputy head of the UK Border Force, Nick Jariwalla had, due to the terrorist threat, instructed UK Border Force staff to focus on arrivals from the EU rather than those from the non-EU rest of the world.

UKBF officers would not dispute the desirability of ensuring there was additional focus on EU arrivals given that in the past they have been instructed NOT to engage in conversations unless there is a problem with the passenger's identity document or that the passenger is on a watch list.

The huge concern however is that this will come at the expense of other arriving passengers including those foreign nationals issued with UK visas. There is a school of thought amongst senior managers of the Border Force, that the work with holders of visas has already been carried out in terms of scrutiny during the application process. Mr Jarniwalla's previous appointment as the UK's visa manager for the Middle East suggest he endorses this 'remote' 'hands off' method of visa issue.

Yet front line UKBF officers are more than a little concerned about the current quality of UK visa issue which makes the UK vulnerable to terrorists, other criminals and those intending to 'overstay.'

Under the Labour government, the posts of most UK Entry Clearance Officers (ECO's) deployed abroad were abolished to save money. This means that visa's are issued on the basis of paper or online applications and there are no face to face interviews. A few ECO's remain in embassies and High Commissions to scrutinise the applications for fraud such as forged bank statements and letters of employment which normally have to be submitted with the application.

Many countries where entry of their nationals into the UK requires a visa, are 'high risk' in terms of terrorism or other criminality; therefore to allow visitors an even easier path into the UK by removing the second line of defence, namely further scrutiny upon arrival in the UK, can only be regarded as sheer folly. Ideally, if border security is to be improved, funds have to be provided to ensure both EU and non-EU passengers arriving in the UK are subject to the appropriate level of scrutiny and that air and seaport terminals can physically cope with the additional demand.

But if arriving UK and EU nationals are to be subject to greater scrutiny, how will this work? UK and EU nationals considered a risk to the UK in terms of presenting a threat in respect of terrorism or the more traditional form of criminality, are likely to be on a watch list and will come to the notice of police and/or the Border Force as the passenger checks in, departs and on arrival in the UK as the passport details are 'read.'

Those not on watch lists but who travel for any sort of nefarious purpose will doubtless head for the e-Gates if they have biometric passports in order to avoid any sort of scrutiny from UKBF officers staffing the UK/EU desks.

The other question is how the additional scrutiny in respect of UK/EU nationals would work. Would UKBF officers be expected to spend longer examining passports, thumbing through pages to look for immigration stamps from countries such as Turkey? Would they be expected to question passengers as to where they had been? How would they profile passengers whilst avoiding allegations of racism or Islamaphobia so often thrown at police?

Spending longer scrutinising UK/EU nationals at passport control would be likely to cause chaos at peak periods. Service level agreements would be breached in respect of queues which would inevitably build up even allowing for non- EU visitors being granted entry to the UK with minimal scrutiny. This, in turn, would result in UKBF officers being taken away from anti-smuggling duties in order to manage passport queues with even greater frequency than is currently the case.

This change of policy must have been 'signed off' by Home Secretary Amber Rudd and, quite possibly, by Theresa May, yet could well leave the UK's borders even more porous than they are at present. UKBF morale, as measured by the Home Office's own survey, is low and there is an unquestionable staff retention problem.

Disposable Integrity

Theresa May, ironically, has often implied that the police service lacks integrity yet her behaviour before the 2015 election and again in similar circumstances today, clearly shows that integrity is a commodity that is disposable when it suits.

Issues around border controls linked to terrorism, 'traditional' criminality, migration, immigration, national security and even queueing times should, as far as is possible, be in the public domain especially around election time. Delaying or redacting reports other than in extreme circumstance where there is a real risk to national security, is cheating the electorate. It's as simple as that.