Border Agency to be split following damning report


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The Independent Online

The UK Border Agency is to be stripped of its enforcement powers after an investigation uncovered a catalogue of failures that allowed hundreds of thousands of people into the country without adequate checks.

The Home Secretary Theresa May, pictured, ordered that the UK Border Force be separated from the UK Border Agency (UKBA). She announced the split as she told MPs that the Vine report into border security checks had identified repeated failings by the UKBA.

They included the failure to carry out checks designed to identify terrorists trying to enter the country. Suspensions of checks, including checks on 500,000 people travelling into the UK on Eurostar services, were often put in place without ministerial approval, the report by John Vine, the chief inspector of the UKBA, found.

Much of the report was devoted to highlighting the failings of the UKBA but ministers also came under fire for a "lack of clairity" in their dealings with staff at the agency and for using language that included references to "summer pressures" and "further measures" that were open to interpretation.

Mr Vine launched his investigation last year after it emerged the UK's border checks were being relaxed at ports and airports without ministerial approval. He found security checks had been suspended regularly and applied inconsistently since at least 2007 as border staff attempted to keep passengers flowing through the UK's ports without long delays.

The humiliating restructuring of the agencies charged with controlling immigration comes four years after UKBA was set up following the denunciation of the Home Office's immigration directorate in 2006 as "not fit for pupose" by Lord Reid, then Home Secretary.

Mrs May's condemnation of the UKBA was just as scathing. She told the Commons: "The Vine report reveals a border force that suspended important checks without permission; that spent millions on new technologies but chose not to use them; that was led by managers who did not communicate with their staff; and that sent reports to ministers that were inaccurate, unbalanced and excluded key information."

Among the findings of the report were that warning index checks, in which people coming into the country are checked against a list of undesirables such as suspected terrorists, were suspended 354 times. The suspensions applied to 500,000 people from the European Economic Area.

Chip readers for checks on biometric passports were deactivated 14,812 times in January to June 2011, before they were relaxed as part of a ministerially approved pilot. Secure ID checks – the system for checking the fingerprints of foreign nationals who require a visa to come to the UK – were suspended 482 times between June 2010 and November 2011.

The shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper told Mrs May: "This mess got worse and escalated on your watch."