Immigration Minister joins debate on border row

Passport control Image copyright PA
Image caption The row about the relaxation of passport controls is a political hot potato

The Immigration Minister Damian Green took his place next to his boss, the Home Secretary, for the debate called by Labour on the row about the relaxation of passport controls during a pilot scheme in the summer.

The Chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee Keith Vaz suggested yesterday that Mr Green, the MP for Ashford, has been "missing" since the row broke out.

But this row doesn't look like it's going away any time soon.

Last night the head of the UK Border Force, Brodie Clark, resigned and he strongly contradicted the version of events provided by the Home Secretary in a statement.

Crossing borders

At Prime Minister's Questions earlier David Cameron backed Theresa May over her decision to relax immigration checks at Britain's ports and airports.

He said: "The pilot that the Home Secretary introduced meant more arrests, more firearms seized, more forged documents found."

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Image caption Prime Minister David Cameron with UK border agency officials at Heathrow earlier this year

And he went on, as the Home Secretary has done, to lay the blame squarely at the door of the Border Agency officials saying:

"The fact is that officials went further than Home Office ministers authorised.

"That is what is wrong and that is why someone had to be suspended. That was the right decision."

Downing Street aides say that the Prime Minister is backing Mrs May "100%" and has full confidence in her.

Mr Cameron is also resisting pressure to speed up an investigation into the affair, which he did in the case of Liam Fox.

The investigation is not due to report until January.

Tricky issues

Of course Labour wants to paint this as a problem caused by the cuts, and Ed Miliband asked how many staff were being axed at the Border Agency.

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Image caption Head of the UK Border Force, Brodie Clark, resigned over the issue of controls earlier this week

Mr Cameron's response was that: "By the end of this parliament there will be 18,000 people working for the UK Border Agency, which is the same number as were working for the UK Border Agency in 2006 when you were sitting in the Treasury and determining budgets."

When Mr Green spoke in the Commons this afternoon he said he didn't authorise an extension of the pilot programme using relaxed passport checks over the summer.

He responded to claims he had authorised an extension by saying: 'I am happy to tell the house that i didn't'

This isn't over though and Keith Vaz has confirmed that he's now written to Damian Green asking him to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

For now, both Theresa May and Damian Green seem safe in their jobs - but what this row does is once again highlight just how tricky the issue of immigration is in the UK.

Political parties - whether Labour or Conservative - ignore that at their peril.