Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Foreign criminals let in by Tory cuts?
Theresa May admits she does not know how many suspects entered UK under relaxed border controls
Here we go again! More ill-judged Tory Cuts! This row has been brought about by Theresa May making 25% cuts in the Border Agency whilst trying to deceive us into believing that she and the govenment were being tough on immigration.
Now that she has been caught out, she is trying to pin the blame elsewhere - note her careful use of language and of deflection debating tactics!
Theresa May, the Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, is facing fresh questions about her judgment after it emerged that she extended a secret relaxation of Britain’s border controls without having detailed information about the security implications of the move.
By James Kirkup, Daily Telegraph Deputy Political Editor 7 Nov 2011
A leaked document shows that in July the Home Secretary authorised UK Border Agency staff not to carry out full checks on the passports of hundreds of thousands of people arriving at British airports and ports for a six-week period.
In September, Mrs May extended the scheme – which was never made public – for another six weeks, despite having only “very limited information” about the consequences of the change.
The leaked document suggested officials had been given discretion further to relax passport controls without seeking ministerial approval. Last night the Home Office insisted that this was a long-standing measure to allow staff to deal with emergencies.
In the House of Commons, Mrs May came under intense pressure as she was accused by Labour of giving the “green light” to weaker border controls and Right-wing Conservatives questioned her judgment.
She insisted she stood by her actions, but admitted that she did not know how many suspected terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants had been able to enter the country under the relaxed checking system she put in place.
The Daily Telegraph reported that in July Mrs May ordered the UKBA’s Border Force to reduce the checks it applied to people entering Britain with European passports. As that “pilot scheme” continued, border staff then relaxed the checks applied to non-European passports too.
Mrs May accused Brodie Clark, the suspended head of the Border Force, of ordering that second relaxation without her permission.
“The paperwork will show without ambiguity that the relaxation of checks that occurred was not sanctioned by me,” she told MPs, adding that Mr Clark could face criminal charges for his actions.
“As a result of these unauthorised actions, we will never know how many people entered the country who should have been prevented from doing so,” Mrs May said.
The Home Secretary assured MPs that under her rules foreigners had still been checked against a Warnings Index of suspected criminals and terrorists.
The second relaxation of passport rules began at an unknown point during Mrs May’s authorised pilot. She said she only learnt of it last week when she was informed by senior officials.
Before the pilot was due to conclude in mid-September, Mrs May decided to allow another six-week relaxation of passport rules.
A Home Office official said Mrs May took that decision based on “very limited interim information” about the pilot in September.
“It was a very limited overview, so she decided she needed more information,” the official said. “There was not enough data, so she extended the pilot.”
Mrs May’s pilot allowed border officials not to check the electronic chips in modern passports, which contain photographs and other “biometric” data about holders.
Unlike simple photographs, that information is almost impossible to forge. Mrs May’s decision to allow the chips to go unchecked was criticised by Philip Hollobone, a Conservative MP. “I and my constituents would want every biometric chip to be checked,” he told her.
Yvette Cooper, the Labour shadow home secretary, condemned Mrs May’s handling of Britain’s borders, telling MPs that the July decision to loosen passport controls had led to the second relaxation.
Mrs Cooper said: “The truth is that instead of strengthening the checks year on year as all previous ministers had committed to do, this Home Secretary decided to water them down as official government policy, even though she never told this House.
She added: “She has blamed officials for relaxing the checks further than she intended. But she gave the green light for weaker controls.” Mrs Cooper also questioned Mrs May’s claim not to have known about the second relaxation of passport checks until last week. UKBA staff had complained to managers about the change as early as August, she said.
Mrs Cooper asked: “How on earth did ministers not know about this?
''At best they were deeply out of touch at worst complicit in a series of serious breaches of border control.”
During her hour-long appearance, Mrs May occasionally faltered, and at one point admitted that she did not know at which airports her relaxed rules had been implemented.
Only after she was passed a note by an aide was she able to tell MPs that under her pilot scheme, passport rules had been eased at all airports across Britain and Northern Ireland.
In a show of support, David Cameron sat next to Mrs May for most of her time in the Commons.
But Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, pointedly refused to back the Home Secretary, saying the issue was of “great concern”.