‘Dysfunctional’ Home Office in need of reform, sacked borders watchdog says

David Neal was fired from his role as chief inspector of borders and immigration last month

Matt Mathers
Monday 11 March 2024 13:10 GMT
Related: No ‘firm date’ on when government will stop the boats, Rishi Sunak admits

The Home Office is “dysfunctional” and in desperate need of reform, the sacked borders watchdog David Neal has said in his latest broadside against the government.

Mr Neal was fired from his role as chief inspector of borders and immigration last month after claiming that Border Force had allowed “high-risk” aircraft to land in the UK without security checks, which the Home Office denied.

He continues to be an outspoken critic of the department and says he “paid the price” for voicing his concerns and that his conscience remains “absolutely clear”.

James Cleverly, the home secretary, said Mr Neal had breached the terms of his appointment and he had lost confidence in him.

In a BBC interview, Mr Neal said failings in the immigration system go “right to the top” of the Home Office. He told The Today Podcast: “The Home Office is dysfunctional, the Home Office needs reform.”

After his dismissal, the Home Office published 13 of Mr Neal’s reports on the same day as damning findings from an inquiry into Sarah Everard’s murder by serving police officer Wayne Couzens, leading to claims the government was trying to bury bad news.

Mr Neal appeared before the Home Affair Committee (PA)

In one of the reports, Mr Neal said protections at UK airports were neither “effective nor efficient” because ePassport gates were sometimes left unmanned.

Roving officers were sometimes distracted by having to manage queues and deal with passenger queries, and that “basic stuff is not being done well”, he said.

“Inspectors saw border posts left unmanned while officers signalled for attention from their managers. This is unacceptable and needs to be addressed urgently,” the report said.

Mr Neal suggested that his sacking and the lack of a replacement meant there would be less scrutiny of border-related issues, including the Rwanda asylum scheme.

“I’ve been sacked. So there will be no scrutiny of small boats, there will be no scrutiny of adults at risk in detention which is a controversial area, there will be no publishing of the Rwanda material.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “It is the job of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration to identify challenges in our system, including those proposed by Border Force, so we can take action to address them.

“But by their nature, each of the ICIBI reports will only be a snapshot of what is going on and will not reflect the changes we make as a result of their findings.

Protections at UK airports were neither ‘effective nor efficient’ because ePassport gates were sometimes left unmanned, Mr Neal says

“A programme of work is already well under way to reform and strengthen Border Force’s capabilities. This is delivering on the prime minister’s pledge to make our structures and resources as strong as possible.

“The work the Home Office, Border Force and the NCA is doing with international partners to stop the boats is another part of our Border Force reform, and is already having a return with small boat arrivals down by a third when Mr Neal was sacked for leaking sensitive information he was told was inaccurate.”

In the incident that led to his dismissal,  Mr Neal accused the Home Office of “dangerous failings” on border security.

He said that checks were not being carried out on hundreds of private jets arriving at London City Airport.

He said that the lapse in security risked organised criminals being able to bring gang members and contraband into the country. Foreign nationals with no right to enter the UK may also have been smuggled in, he said.

The Home Office had “categorically rejected” the claims, saying that Mr Neal “has chosen to put misleading data into the public domain”.

Mr Neal appeared before Home Affairs Committee at the end of February, telling MPs that he was sacked for “speaking truth to power”.

He said that he would tell the future chief inspector that they should “have the moral courage to do what’s right” and “hold on to your principles”.

He told MPs: “I think I’ve been sacked for doing what the law asks of me and I’ve breached, I’ve fallen down over a clause in my employment contract, which I think is a crying shame.”

A Home Office spokesperson responded to Mr Neal’s testimony saying his appointment “was terminated after he leaked confidential and misleading information, and lost the confidence of the home secretary”.

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