Why there is bedlam at UK border control
Published in: Daily Mail
Control of its borders is the way in which a nation defends its security and identity. Yet to judge from some recent developments, Britain’s security and identity — with parts of its civil service — have descended into a near-farcical shambles.
The Tories undertook to reduce immigration from around 250,000 people a year to fewer than 100,000. Now, however, it appears that their own officials have been sabotaging even that modest commitment.
Last Friday Brodie Clark, head of the Border Force, was suspended with two other senior officials after the discovery that thousands of foreigners had been let into the country last summer without full passport and anti-terrorism checks.
This was no rogue event. It surfaced one day after Home Affairs Select Committee MPs accused the Border Agency — the Border Force’s parent body — of losing track of enough asylum-seekers and migrants to populate the city of Cambridge.
Just to add to the sense of the agency being out of control, there are also separate claims of corruption, with an employee facing prosecution for taking bribes to allow Nigerians to enter Britain illegally.
According to media reports, the Border Force cut its checks because of complaints from new arrivals at airports such as Heathrow and Gatwick.
This was because of the long queues that have built up since the agency cut 700 front-line jobs as part of a 10 per cent budget reduction last January.
On the face of it, this explanation sounds absurd. After all, Britain needs to be on its guard against terrorism by Islamic fanatics. MI5 has issued terrifying warnings about the scale and seriousness of this threat.
To relax immigration checks in such circumstances because a few airline passengers are moaning about delays at passport control is scarcely credible.
In any event, similar examples of relaxing immigration checks to reduce the backlog surfaced back in 2004. Budget cuts would seem to be merely an excuse.
The real reason is surely an intractable attitude among immigration officials that the Government is finding mighty hard to shift. While the Tories rightly see immigration control as vital for security and the orderly management of the country, their officials’ main preoccupation is instead the speedy processing of people in the passport queues.
That shallow attitude is, in turn, largely the result of a deep-seated crisis in the way in which Britain sees itself, which has rendered the immigration service ‘unfit for purpose’ — in the words of former Labour Home Secretary, John Reid — for many years.
The Border Agency was set up in 2008, ostensibly to get a grip on lax border controls. However, it was clear at the time that this was merely a reshuffle of the official furniture in a rebranding exercise that would do nothing to address the deeper causes of the problem.
Such an absence of real political will has been illustrated by the astounding way in which incompetence has been repeatedly rewarded.
Brodie Clark, for example, was appointed to run the Border Force even though he had been governor of the maximum security Whitemoor prison in Cambridgeshire in 1994 when six IRA men escaped after two guns and a quantity of Semtex were smuggled inside.
Moreover, last year Clark received a £15,000 bonus on top of his £135,000 salary, and other senior officials in the Border Agency have paid themselves bonuses of between £5,000 and £10,000 — even while the system they were administering was falling apart.
According to former Labour immigration minister Phil Woolas, the problem with official attitudes goes far beyond the Border Agency and the Home Office. During his time in office, he says, Treasury and Foreign Office staff also systematically frustrated measures to combat illegal immigration.
So why is it so difficult to get the immigration issue under control? Well, neither Phil Woolas nor John Reid can justifiably dump the blame entirely on officials.
The real culprit is surely a political culture that years ago lost the plot on national identity and race relations — and the legacy of which is an administrative class whose resulting attitudes are simply inimical to the national interest.
The crucial milestone in this long-running debacle was 1997, when the incoming Blair/Brown Labour government decided to lift existing immigration controls in order to create a new kind of society, both economic and cultural.
New Labour thought that, since the economic dynamism of the U.S. was due to the fact that it was a nation of immigrants, mass immigration would similarly transform the British economy. It also thought that creating a multicultural society would eradicate prejudice and bigotry.
Both arguments were, of course, as fatuous as they were anti-democratic. Unlike Britain, the U.S. does not have an ancient national identity that mass immigration would transform.
Even so, the irony is that the U.S. is, in fact, far more rigorous than the UK in enforcing immigration controls — as anyone can testify who has endured the long queues at American airports, where you have your fingerprints taken and are given the third degree in interrogation.
In addition, it is extremely difficult to obtain a visa or Green Card to enable you to work in the U.S.
Yet in the UK, the obvious fact that encouraging the mass immigration of unskilled, impoverished people would result not in enriching but impoverishing the country was simply denied.
That was because the deepest aim was to transform Britain into a multicultural society — because Labour despised the very idea of national identity based on Britain’s foundational culture, history, religion and traditions.
Anyone who objected was damned as a racist. Thus the cultural identity of Britain, no less, was changed without its citizens ever being consulted.
The fury this has created among many of those citizens can hardly be exaggerated.
By lunchtime yesterday, no fewer than 90,000 people had signed the e-petition launched by MigrationWatch UK six days previously, calling on the Government to ‘take all necessary measures to keep the population under 70 million’.
A YouGov poll published today shows that 69 per cent support reducing net immigration to 40,000 a year in future years — the level required to keep the population below 70 million — and that 79 per cent of adults in England consider the country to be crowded.
Immigration probably sits at the very top of the public’s concerns. Yet it’s the one issue which — even today — politicians of all parties prefer not to mention.
Is this not curious? In a democracy, pressure from the public generally runs the political agenda. Yet when it comes to immigration, politicians who otherwise react like Pavlov’s dogs to the slightest movement in the opinion polls choose at best to ignore it or at worst to go in the opposite direction.
The reason is the iron grip on the political psyche of the belief that upholding the cultural identity of the nation is racist. Immigration has thus long been the driver of a cultural transformation that dare not speak its name.
This dates back long before New Labour to Enoch Powell, the Tory politician whose warnings about immigration made his name synonymous with racism, and turned the entire subject toxic.
As a result, immigration slipped off the political radar.
When a country becomes thus profoundly demoralised, there inevitably follow two related consequences. The first is that it begins to destroy its own national interest. The second is that it descends into a dizzying downward spiral of administrative incompetence.
The chaos at the Border Agency reflects nothing less than the crisis over Britain’s very soul.