Theresa May splits UK Border Agency in bid to kill immigration row

By Ian Dunt

Theresa May split the UK Border Agency in half today, in a bid to kill the controversy around reduced immigration checks.

The home secretary presented the Vine report into the reduced checks to the Commons, only to be met by demands that she apologise to parliament for her conduct.

"UKBA has been a troubled organisation since it was founded," Ms May told the Commons.

"It has reacted to a serious of problems instead of positively managing its responsibilities.

"It is in better hands for the future but the extent of the transformational change required is too great for one organisation."

The home secretary confirmed UK Border Force would split into a new operational command, in a bid to create a "whole new management culture".

Brian Moore, chief constable of Wiltshire police, has been made interim UK Border Force head.

The Vine report is particularly damning towards UK Border Force but it contains problems for the home secretary as well.

The report confirmed that reduced checks took place on those arriving in the UK without ministerial authorisation in the period after 2007. Reductions were non-existent in the first two years, but rose dramatically in 2011.

UK Border Force sometimes suspended checks in unauthorised circumstances above and beyond the health and safety scenarios envisaged and then proceeded to abandon them entirely for some passengers.

Fingerprint secure ID was suspended on a number of occasions without ministerial approval.

In one case, when Ms May explicitly rejected suspension of ID checks, officials went ahead without her authorisation.

One operation, which reduced checks on passengers from low-risk countries, was "potentially discriminatory and unlawful", Ms May told MPs.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Ms May had given MPs an unbalanced account of the report, which did not include the passages on ministerial responsibility or the effect of reduced staff numbers on the UK Border Force.

The "clear suggestion is lack of staff could have increased problems and yet she hasn't give that statement in her report to parliament," Ms Cooper said.

"Time and again the home secretary has not set out the whole information in this report.

"This has very serious implications for our border and yet the home secretary is continuing to hide, as she has hidden from the media.

"It's time for her to stop hiding, to take responsibility," she added.

"This mess got worse and escalated on her watch. Unless she accepts responsibility she will fail to sort it out."

Ms Cooper said the report found ministers had failed to clear language when authorising reduced checks.

Its instruction that queues should not get beyond "reasonable length" were open to misinterpretation, the report found.

The report also criticised ministers for failing to monitor the scheme once it was authorised.

Ms May later admitted that the report did criticise ministers, although she had not mentioned it in her statement to the Commons.

The reduced checks were introduced following concerns in airports and in government at the length of the queues at immigration checks.

The loss of the suspension system will concern staff and police, as the backlog at ports and entry points often reaches unacceptable levels under the various new procedures set up to detect illegal immigrants.

The home secretary confirmed she would implement the reports suggestions in full, including cancelling all existing suspension measures featured in the report, introducing an operating policy on secure ID checks, establishing a minimum level of mandatory checks for all passengers and setting standards for record keeping.