This week the UK Border Agency has come back under fresh scrutiny, after an official inquiry report condemned the border force for “poor communication, poor managerial hindsight and a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities”.
Home Secretary Theresa May resorted to the dramatic response by announcing plans to split UKBA into two, designating the border force as a separate law enforcement agency headed by a Chief Constable.
The inquiry, carried out by UKBA chief inspector John Vine, sought to examine the suspension of some border checks which emerged last year amidst finger pointing between May and Brodie Clark- then head of the border force. The report assigned responsibility for the confusion over border controls amongst officials and ministers, but raises concerns over the fact there was no shared understanding about policy between the offices of those involved.
Whilst the relaxing of certain border controls was lambasted as an example of a “real Mickey Mouse operation” by Tory MP Douglas Carswell- whatever that entails- it is the structural failings of UKBA not the exclusion of low-risk visitors from some security checks that is of more concern. The only focus has been on the possible security concerns from low-risk travellers, yet has ignored how the failings of the border agency may have impacted upon migrants. The Migrants’ Rights Network has already put the furore over the checks in perspective. It must be emphasised that the temporary suspensions of ‘warning index’ checks was only employed for low-risk travellers- i.e. only EEA nationals travelling from French resorts or school groups travelling to the UK by coach.
The report’s implications for the future of UK immigration controls are of far greater significance. We have previously covered a number of UKBA’s failings- including the adequacy of training and supervision of enforced removals of migrants, and Vine’s earlier criticism of entry clearance decision-making- and so will be unsurprising for many who have been on the receiving end of poor or inconsistent decision-making processes that UKBA’s flaws have emerged in the media again.
We would agree with The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins that the security of the UK was not put at risk by the suspension of checks on travellers coming into the UK. It’s more akin to the opening of ticket barriers at a train station during rush hour than it is to offering a free pass to half a million terrorists and organised criminals. For a suspension to [pro-actively endanger the security of the UK, dangerous elements would have to have previous warning of the suspension – and this was not the case.
The fact that communication was so poor between the Home Office and UKBA, and operational instructions so lax, is of great concern to migrants for whom so much rests upon the decisions and actions of border agency staff and other officials. If ministerial decisions were so ineffectively implemented by UKBA in the case of border security checks, then there is little hope that rules and guidelines will effectively filter further down when the border agency outsources the detention and removal of asylum-seekers. And, if it is suggested that some individuals may have entered the UK due to some exclusions to security checks, then it seems likely that the reverse may also have occurred, and many who were entitled to visas were unnecessarily denied entry.
A good analysis of the announced split can be found in an article by Matt Cavanagh of IPPR. It is unclear yet what, if any, improvements the structural changes will have upon coordination and effective management across the organisations responsible for border controls; however, it is essential that any changes must address the many failings of UKBA faced by migrants.