National security under threat from airport queue 'circus'

Passenger chaos at Britain's airports has become a "circus" which threatens national security, Labour claimed last night.

Hundreds of people yesterday faced "unacceptably long" queues at immigration checks at Stansted airport. It follows major delays of up to three hours at passport control at Heathrow airport, with just weeks to go until athletes and the world's media arrive for the London Olympics.

Customs staff are being redirected to passport control, meaning checks for guns, drugs and other smuggled goods have been all but abandoned.

It also emerged last night that wealthy passengers are being offered the chance to "jump" queues at Heathrow, by paying £1,800 to pass through the airport as VIPs. The Sunday Times reported that airport operator BAA had opened up the exclusive Windsor Suite to be used by wealthy passengers. Louise Ellman, chairman of the Commons transport select committee, said the service "shows a contempt for members of the public trying to get into the country".

The crisis will pile pressure on Theresa May, the Home Secretary, already on the back foot over revelations last autumn that some passenger checks were relaxed to cope with queues.

David Cameron called Ms May into Downing Street last week to demand an explanation for the long queues, which risk harming Britain's international reputation when the world's eyes are on the capital.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said Ms May had to "get a grip". She said: "The chaos at our borders is clearly spreading – damaging our global reputation and our security too. This is becoming a circus, with staff being shunted from port to port to try to keep up. She needs to get a grip, sort out unacceptable delays at our borders and make sure there are enough officers available to maintain security too."

A spokesman for Stansted said: "We recognise that maintaining strong border security is a priority but we also want to see sufficient resources available to meet passenger demand."

The PCS union has warned that routine security checks are not being carried out because staff have been moved elsewhere, a problem exacerbated by job cuts.

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