19 January 2012

British MPs 'shocked' by relaxed UK immigration policies

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A report published by the Commons Home Affairs Committee investigating relaxed border control policies has been labelled as 'damning' by Labour's Shadow Immigration Minister.

UK visa

Border checks should not have been relaxed so frequently despite hectic conditions at UK airports, a government report finds.

The report was in response to a scandal last year when a senior UK immigration official resigned after being accused of relaxing border controls beyond the wishes of the Home Secretary Theresa May.

The Home Secretary had authorised the relaxed of some checks in the event of 'limited circumstances' such as overcrowding or a fire, but that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) had gone too far; a claim Brodie Clarke, head of the Border Force, said made his job "untenable".

The report has blamed a lack of supervision and a convoluted communications process between the UKBA and the Home Office for border controls being relaxed too often in 2011.

Keith Vaz, Labour MP and chair of the committee said major failings at the UKBA had been exposed and the committee had been "able to conclude there was a lack of communication between the different arms of the UKBA, there was a lack of supervision of senior staff at the agency which allowed this extraordinary situation to continue."

While the report commended a pilot scheme which gave border staff the discretion to carry out risk based checks, it said it was 'shocked' by how many times UK immigration laws had been relaxed during hectic conditions in mid-2011 and that national security had been put at risk. However, it claimed the Home Office's reluctance to submit relevant documents prevented it from apportioning the blame.

Mr Vaz said that the committee required the documentation to further investigate the issue.

"We can't take this forward without the documents. With them this report would have been a one pager," he said.

However succinct the report may have been with the relevant documents, Labour MPs have been quick to condemn the government for the report's findings. The Shadow Immigration Minister Chris Bryant said "the report is damning. Minsters failed to oversee their own pilot of reduced border checks resulting in a significant fall in those stopped and retuned, then kept all official papers from Parliament to make it impossible for the committee to get to the truth.

"It reveals that senior officials were aware for some time of the suspension of border checks, yet the so-called pilot was left to carry on with no oversight from the Immigration Minster of the Home Secretary".


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