Border checks: Beware an official scorned

  • 15 November 2011
  • From the section UK Politics
  • comments

Former UK border force chief Brodie Clark has been giving evidence to MPs about the row over the dropping of some border checks over the summer:

UPDATE 12.50pm: The fog over our borders may be beginning to clear.

The man who was forced out of the UK Border Agency for waiving border controls - in particular fingerprint matching - without ministerial permission has now accepted that normal border checks were regularly suspended, he did know about it and he did not inform the Home Secretary.

However, he insists that this was all to do with "normal practice" and long standing policy for dealing with situations when the health and safety of passengers and staff were at risk.

It was not, he declared, because he had unilaterally altered government policy. The suspension of some routine checks also ensured the preservation, he said, of so-called "warnings index checks" on those coming into the country deemed to be high risk.

The misunderstanding - if that's what it was - between Brodie Clark and the Home Secretary Theresa May stems from the suspension of fingerprint matching. He asked for permission to do this as part of a pilot scheme for intelligence-led border checks. She denied that permission.

However, he was informed about and approved the suspension of fingerprint checking by Heathrow without seeking the Home Secretary's permission under a policy relating to "health and safety at ports" dating back to 2007. One problem - fingerprint matching was only introduced in 2010 and, therefore, not mentioned in that policy.

What emerged this morning with startling clarity is the extraordinary way this whole saga has been handled. Brodie Clark was initially offered the opportunity to retire with "a good package" and "a good reference" by his boss only for that to be withdrawn. The Home Secretary, he complains, has destroyed a reputation built up over 40 years in just 2 days.

So, the "he says, she says", Clark v May saga continues in a way which will do the Home Secretary no good at all.

However, I suspect most people will be less interested in the questions of who did what when than in why our borders are run in a way which routinely requires border checks to be suspended at all.

UPDATE 12pm: Brodie Clark has now confirmed that he did agree to suspend automatic fingerprint matching at the border without seeking the Home Secretary's permission.

Indeed, it happened on "just over 50 occasions" in May, June and July of this year and "about 7" in August, September and October.

However, he insists that this was nothing to do with extending the pilot scheme for intelligence-based border checking.

It was driven, instead, by concerns about safety at airports and ports when it was an "extremely sensible thing to do" and was a regular enough occurrence that ministers would, he claimed, have known about it.

11.40am: Brodie Clark is not going quietly. When the former head of the UK Border Force walked in to give evidence to the the Home Affairs Select Committee he looked determined, unrepentant and angry.

His prepared opening statement confirmed that: "I am not a rogue officer... I did not enlarge, extend or redefine the scope (of policy) in any way."

In just the first few minutes he has directly contradicted the evidence of both the Home Secretary and the Chief Executive of the UK Border Agency Rob Whiteman. Theresa May is about to learn a lesson many ministers have learnt - beware an official scorned.

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