The Home Office cannot cope with Brexit unless the government gives the department more money, the former director of immigration enforcement has warned.
David Wood, who stepped down from the post in 2014, said Conservative austerity measures which had seen resources at the department slashed would need to be reversed.
Appearing before the Commons home affairs committee on Tuesday afternoon, he was asked of the Home Office could deal with the immigration changes that Brexit would cause on existing budgets.
“I don’t think they can cope with it,” Wood said. “Right across the immigration system I don’t think it’s ever greatly well resourced, it’s becoming tighter and tighter and budgets are getting reduced and reduced.
“I don’t think under current resources the challenge of Brexit can be met. And certainly not met smoothly. There is no doubt in my mind.”
Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, told HuffPost UK: “It is no surprise the Home Office cannot cope. The whole government is riven by in-fighting over Brexit and unable to do what is in the national interest.
“Tory cuts mean there are too few resources to cope, and the Home Office priority has been to create a climate of hostility for migrants. If the Tories cannot cope with the mess they have created, they should step aside for Labour who can.”
And Lib Dem Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey added the Home Office “can barely cope now let alone once the true impact of Brexit is felt”.
“The department has suffered from chronic underfunding and the inability to get on with the day to day job, being under political pressure to deliver on ludicrous Conservative policies like reducing immigration to the tens of thousands,” he said.
Wood also warned the government it needed to start hiring new staff immediately in order to be in place by the time the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.
“The staff need to be trained. The staff need to be competent,” he said. “These should be things that are being thought about now.”
Under Theresa May’s Brexit plan, EU citizens who want to remain, or come to live, in Britain after 2019 will need to register their presence in the country.
There are currently estimated to be three million EU nationals who live in the UK.
John Vine, the former the former independent inspector of borders and immigration, told MPs at the committee agreed with Wood that the Home Office needed to quickly train new staff.
“If we are bringing three million people in to some form of new status, and presumably we want them to be part of our society, then it has to be done properly,” he said.