Border controls nowhere near good enough, minister tells MPs

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Immigration chiefs are being alerted to problems at ports and airports every six hours under a dramatic attempt to get a grip on Britain's border controls, MPs were told yesterday.

The move followed the discovery that checks had been secretly relaxed over the summer when queues of passengers became too long.

Brodie Clark was suspended and then resigned as the head of the UK Border Force after the disclosure and is now fighting a legal battle with Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who he accuses of destroying his reputation.

Damian Green, the immigration minister, told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, which is investigating the controversy, that parts of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) are "nothing like good enough".

Dame Helen Ghosh, the Home Office permanent secretary, who was also giving evidence, said there were "cultural issues" in the UKBA management and revealed that Rob Whiteman, its new chief executive, was receiving six-hourly updates on the operation of passport checks.

Mr Green said: "The UK Border Agency is now a mixed bag. It is good in parts but it's nothing like good enough in other parts. What we need now is to get more information and have that information spread around so that we can take decisions earlier and we can take decisions faster."

He made clear that he remained committed to targeted checks on European nationals travelling to Britain, adding that more fake passports and illegal immigrants had been uncovered during the summer in trials of a more risk-based approach.

Both Mr Green and Dame Helen insisted that Mr Clark had eased checks on non-European passengers without permission from ministers – a version of events strongly denied by the former border chief. Mr Clark has said he acted under guidance dating from 2007 but the Immigration Minister countered that the instructions only allowed the relaxation of controls for European passport holders – and it was absolutely wrong to "stretch" them to cover other travellers.

Mr Green told MPs the suspension of other checks was never mentioned to him by Mr Clark despite having meetings with him. "Very relevant information was withheld from ministers and it appears to have been happening for a period of time," he said.

The committee members protested that the Home Office is refusing to release internal memos and emails that could clarify the conflicting accounts over the controversy.

The department says the communications will be supplied to its internal inquiries into the episode, whose conclusions will be made public.