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Borders Row Continues: Brodie Clark Speaks Out; Theresa May Stands Firm

Posted on the 16 November 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Borders row continues: Brodie Clark speaks out; Theresa May stands firm

Brodie Clark speaks out: Photocredit:

Brodie Clark, the recently resigned head of the UK Borders Agency, has expressed his surprise at the fact that ministers didn’t know that passport checks were relaxed at Heathrow. He’d been suspended, because Theresa May claimed he’d gone beyond the call of duty in a trial of the relaxed controls: but he resigned over the row, saying that he didn’t ignore government policy. He’s given evidence in front of MPs, and said, quoted in The Times, that he was “no rogue officer.” What also came to light during the hearing was that Clark had been offered – and accepted – a retirement package by Rob Whiteman, the Chief Executive of the UK Borders Agency. It was then withdrawn.

“Over 40 years I have built up a reputation and over two days that reputation has been destroyed and I believe that has been largely because of the contribution made by the Home Secretary,” said Brodie Clark, quoted in The Times.

The bone of contention is fingerprint checks. In his first interview with the Today programme, quoted on the BBC, Clark said that he’d known that airport staff hadn’t always done fingerprint checks at busy times; but he didn’t tell ministers, thinking that they knew about it. Guidelines set up in 2007 allowed some checks to be overlooked on passengers from the European Economic Area, when there were long queues; but fingerprint checks were not allowed to be skipped. Theresa May says she didn’t allow them to be so; Brodie Clark said she would have been briefed on such matters when in office. Now, of course, the inevitable inquiries: May has order three of the beasts; meanwhile, Clark is suing for constructive dismissal on the grounds that his reputation has been destroyed.

“Perhaps I should have more thoroughly checked what the home secretary knew or did not know,” hedged Brodie Clark on the BBC.

What’s really going on. That’s not the whole story. Both Clark and May might be right, said The Daily Telegraph view. May’s pilot scheme didn’t allow fingerprint checks to be avoided. That is true. However: a Labour policy did allow discretion in relaxing border controls on the grounds of health and safety – which is what Clark did. Clark has been badly treated. May should not have accused him until after the inquiry. But Clark should have told May – especially because her pilot scheme “explicitly excluded” such a step. Really, what this political intrigue masks is that the nation’s infrastructure is falling apart. We need a new airport, fast.

Looking under the surface. That may be the case, said Shelagh McKinlay in The Guardian, but this is also giving us a big insight into the civil service. Clark’s not being a “camera-shy mandarin.” The affair’s brought to light the tensions between the civil service as it is now, and ministers, who want to be told what they want to hear. But this new breed of civil servants won’t “go quietly” – and Clark’s refusal to do so is “a taste of things to come”, as civil servants won’t “fall on their swords” any more if they think they’ve been “stabbed in the back.”

The man himself speaks out. And here we have him: Brodie Clark himself speaking out in  The Times, saying that he felt like he was in a Kafka story, and that he’d always been loyal to the government. Our borders are actually safe – they shouldn’t be used as political tools. The borders agency has got an “armoury” of ways to deal with dangerous people – the focus should be on them, not “checking for checking’s sake.” He himself instituted the pilot scheme so that staff wouldn’t waste their time checking busloads of British veterans, for example. More discretion is the only way to “win the war”. Defending his position, he finished by saying that the last few days had been “surreal”, and his carefully built up reputation has been ruined in 48 hours, through “unfounded allegations.” His superiors should have stuck to “proper processes”, instead of saving their own skins.

What he’s really like. He’s not just a civil servant unafraid to speak out. Clark is as “solid as a bollard”, said Ann Treneman’s political sketch in The Times. He’s “born to play the good guy.” He’s not a rogue – he’s a “brogue.”

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