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Home Secretary Theresa May in Dock Over Border Relaxation Scheme

Posted on the 08 November 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Home Secretary Theresa May in dock over border relaxation scheme

Scandal at the border. Photo credit: UK Home Office.

Home Secretary Theresa May is in the unenviable position this week of having to explain why she gave, as Labour claimed, “the green light for weaker controls” at the UK border this summer.

On Monday, May admitted that she approved a scheme to scale back security procedures for some European travelers entering the UK this summer; checks on non-EU nationals, however, were further relaxed without ministerial approval and May has now ordered an inquiry into those claims, the BBC reported. According to the news agency, the Home Secretary approved a pilot scheme, employed “under limited circumstances”, that would allow border control officers to use discretion in determining whether to open the biometric chip on the passports of people from within the EU to check a second secure photograph. Checks on children traveling with parents and in school groups were also relaxed. May told the House of Commons that the program was being trialed for security reasons, to determine if Border resources could be better focused on individuals who posed a threat; a leaked document out Tuesday, however, indicates that the real reason was to reduce the ludicrously long queues at the borderThe Telegraph reported.

That pilot scheme, however, allegedly without the approval or knowledge of May, spun wildly out of control and, she admitted, biometric checks on European nationals and children were “abandoned on a regular basis”.

May also acknowledged that she does not know how many people were admitted into the UK without sufficient checks, a piece of news that several outlets quickly seized upon: The Metro reported the story under the headline “Theresa May: I don’t know how many terrorist suspects we let into the UK”.

Home Secretary Theresa May in dock over border relaxation scheme

Home Secretary, Theresa May. Photo credit: Home Office

Blame May. Taking the populist, nationalist stance, The Daily Mirror blamed May for the “fiasco” at UK borders in a leading editorial on Tuesday. Said The Mirror, immigration queues are caused by a lack of Border Agency staff; but May is pressing ahead with plans to cut 5,000 Border jobs. “Mrs May must now tell officials to urgently find out whether fanatics may have sneaked in and how we’re going to round them up,” the paper claimed. “And having more border staff at Heathrow and elsewhere will cut queues… and make us all safer.”

May passing the buck, setting anti-immigrant tone. May might not be guilty of even implicitly allowing the extreme relaxation of border checks, but her reaction to the burgeoning scandal has been problematic, The Independent claimed in a leader. Adopting a “tone of animosity and suspicion against people coming into this country”, May’s rhetoric “fails to distinguish between, on the one hand, threats to security from terrorists and criminals, and, on the other, problems caused to society by illegal immigration for economic ends. They are different and require separate measures of border controls.” Her pilot policy may have sent the wrong signals to her civil servants, therefore, and she must now take responsibility for that – and not just blame officials, who, faced with staff cuts, are taking a let’s just manage the best we can approach.

Immigration officer speaks out. A Heathrow immigration officer, on the condition of anonymity, spoke out against the Government’s relaxation to the BBC, claiming that they were told not to conduct fingerprint checks of visa holders and told only to make a “cursory glance” over visa photos. “Our ability to do that was massively reduced this summer because of the restrictions that were imposed,” the officer claimed. “It’s a pretty shambolic state of affairs to come to work and be told not to bother doing your job because they can’t find the time for us to do it. It’s inexcusable.”

Blaming May ignores the real scandal. “This circus ignores the true scandal: that at a time when Britain needs growth more than ever, the country is far from being ‘open to business’. This does not begin at the border. Long border queues are just a small part of a larger pattern in which non-European business people, skilled workers and artists – all of whom most Britons would rather visit the UK than competitor economies – are not being made to feel welcome,” theFinancial Times, which has long been concerned with how this government’s immigration policy is affecting business, worried, in a leading editorial.

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