Julian Huppert MP writes… Improving on the UK Border Agency

On Monday the Home Affairs Select Committee published yet another damning report of the UK Border Agency. We found that, in addition to the half million undetermined immigration and asylum cases, UKBA were failing to deal with new immigration cases.

It is no wonder that immigration is consistently identified as one of the biggest issues facing the UK if the Agency established by Labour cannot tell us who is in the country, who should be here and who should not.

The backlog started in the 90s, but in response Labour put the whole border control operation at arm’s length. They ended exit checks and pushed control of our borders away from the Home Office.

Not only did that fail to deal with the existing cases, it created a completely unaccountable system which has consistency misled Parliament and the public. The immense system created by Labour was uncaring, uncompromising and utterly ineffectual.

We’ve always said that to deal with immigration and asylum – and the public’s concerns – you have to start with the very basics. Keeping track of who is leaving, as well as entering. Dealing with asylum and immigration applications in a timely and humane way. Making sure those who have a right to be here can be here, and making sure those who don’t have a right to be here are dealt with.

It’s simple stuff. Successive Governments – particularly the last Labour Government – have got it tragically wrong.

Since entering Government Ministers have been trying to deal with the backlog. We’re doing what we’ve always called for, and reintroducing exit checks. But no matter how hard Ministers and the Home Affairs Committee have scrutinised and criticised, the Agency has failed.

Today, we’re calling time on UKBA. Functions will be moved closer to Ministers and closer to scrutiny. The enforcement activity – getting rid of people who clearly shouldn’t be here – will be separated from the vital task of processing visas and urgent asylum applications.

This is not a panacea. We need to change the culture of our Border Agency, we need a new framework for processing applications and we need staff who are properly trained and guided. There is a lot of work to do to get it right.

But the recognition in Government that UKBA is at the heart of our immigration woes is a long-standing Lib Dem aim, and now it is our Government policy.

Exit checks, better scrutiny and new structures for determining applications. We have an opportunity to get this right, and to build confidence in our immigration system. Immigration is vital for a stronger economy, a workable border agency is vital for a fairer society. We’re achieving both.

* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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10 Comments

  • David Rogers 26th Mar '13 - 5:27pm

    Great article Julian – especially linking this policy area at the end of your piece to “stronger economy, fairer society”!Did the Home Secretary give Lib Dems credit for articulating another dose of common sense when she made the announcement?

  • There’s absolutely no need whatsoever for the government to know exactly who’s here at any given time and far too much time and money has been wasted on trying to acheive it. Stop trying to turn Britain into a closed, walled, replica of East Germany in the 1970s.

    And it really really should be cast iron LibDem policy to join Schengen as soon as possible.

  • Peter Hayes 26th Mar '13 - 9:03pm

    Border security has always been a joke as long as you are white with the right accent. Back in the 2000s we had our passports stolen in Spain. The consulate could not care when they discovered we were not flying. Two weeks later we got back into UK via the tunnel with drivers licences and bus passes. A few weeks later the Passport Agency issued new passports and cancelled the old ones, a six week window for our old ones to be used in UK and presumably until they expired overseas.

  • Mark Smulian 26th Mar '13 - 11:36pm

    I usually find myself agreeing with Julian, but how on earth can exit controls be introduced when ‘UK Border’ cannot cope with entry controls?
    Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted all too often grind to a halt with longer queues for passport control than I have encountered anywhere else in the world.
    British passport control queues, when things get even slightly busy, already bring this country into international disrepute, whether among returning residents, tourists or those visiting on business, with luckless arrivals all too often having to wait up to 30-45 minutes.
    Exit controls can only work if they are properly staffed, as is signally not the case at present for entry controls. And is the money for that realistically likely to be available?

  • Suzanne Fletcher 27th Mar '13 - 8:31am

    I am delighted to hear of the end of UKBA. As well as Julian’s reasons, they (or to fair some of them) have treated those genuinely seeking sanctuary with inhumanity, stripping people of dignity, having no respect for them at all, leaving them to live lives of fear and insecurity. And being financially inefficient in how they work, to cap it all.
    Any new system must deal with this. the culture needs to change, and that will need more than a change in name, but ministerial accountability should help.

  • @Mark
    “with luckless arrivals all too often having to wait up to 30-45 minutes.”
    Compared to other countries airports I’ve used regularly over the years, these times aren’t bad, although I understand it is frustrating having spent ~30 minutes waiting in baggage claim to then spend even more time waiting at passport control, followed by queuing for a taxi/bus.

    The best queue’s I’ve found have been in Japan, where travelling with a Japanese airline or Virgin (!) you can often find yourself among only a dozen or so non-Japanese people on a full flight…

  • “hapless asylum seekers”

    Surely this is a term that can’t be seriously applied to asylum seekers in the UK: to reach the UK, an asylum seeker has had to show significant amounts of skill and intent, plus probably handed significant amounts of money to traffickers.

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