Revolution in immigration system as Theresa May splits UKBA in two

Theresa May instigated a major overhaul of Britain's immigration system today as she split the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in two.

The troubled agency will be split into one section dealing with visas and immigration while the other acts as a law enforcement agency.

"UKBA has been a troubled organisation for many years," the home secretary told the Commons in an unexpected statement.

"It has a poor IT system and operates under complex legal arrangements that often work against it."

The visa and immigration half of the body will be stripped of its agency status and report directly to May in the Home Office.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper suggested the move was a desperate response to the poor media reception which met David Cameron's keynote speech on immigration on Monday.

"Yesterday's major speech by the prime minister made no mention of these reforms," she said.

"Only after the prime minister's speech was dismissed by the media as allowing politics to trump policy has she suddenly decided to rush this statement out before the Easter recess."

The split comes just a year after May instigated a previous split of the system, with the border agency set up on the one hand and a border force established on the other.

That new system failed to prompt any significant improvement in the immigration system, however.

Queues at the border have grown under Border Force, as have the backlog of asylum cases.

"For years the UK Border Agency has failed to get control of immigration and asylum," Liberal Democrat committee on home affairs co-chair Julian Huppert said.

"After years of neglect the coalition government has recognised the scale of the problem and is getting rid of the failed UK Border Agency. I hope this change will begin to get to grips with the immense backlog we face."

In a sign the move may not be as decisive as it first appeared, the Home Office permanent secretary told staff: "Most of us will still be doing the same job with the same colleagues for the same boss."