As a long-standing supporter of Brexit, I am delighted that we are taking back control of our borders. That is what all countries outside the EU do, so we are now joining the rest of the world. It certainly does not mean isolation or abandoning our global responsibilities.
It does mean that our border policy, deciding who comes here and on what terms, will once again be conducted by the government, answerable to the electorate. And it gives us a crucial opportunity to take a world lead in combatting the evil trade in human beings, many of whom are exploited into a form of modern slavery.
The government must rise to this challenge, and so far the preparations are lacking and the prospects are not good.
Two years ago the government published its immigration proposals in a white paper, which stated, “We are committed to stamping out modern slavery”. Key to this was a new Electronic Travel Authorisation system whereby all travellers without a visa would be checked before arrival.
Anyone who has visited the United States will be familiar with a very similar system. Two years later, and only weeks before leaving the EU it should be working, but the necessary legislation has not even been brought to Parliament.
I welcome the fact that those convicted of criminal offences with a sentence of more than 12 months will in future be refused entry. This will replace the EU’s freedom of movement, which makes it all but impossible to block or deport criminals even if they have been implicated in human trafficking.
But this new power is valueless without access to the necessary information, records and intelligence. A convicted modern slavery offender is hardly likely to voluntarily reveal his criminal record.
Negotiations with the EU have so far failed to give the UK continued access to intelligence from EU databases. This includes the Schengen Information System (SIS), described as “the most widely used and largest information sharing system for security and border management in Europe”, and the Secure Information Exchange Network Application (SIENA) that allows information to be shared between EU member states and other countries in real-time.
Whatever the problems with the fisheries and trade negotiations, it must be in the mutual interests of Britain and the EU to continue the fight against human trafficking and I call on both sides to recognise this.
Those travelling to Britain from the EU and many other countries will continue to enter through automated “eGates”. This means no face to face contact with Border Force officers. And, without access to EU databases, trafficker suspects will not be flagged on the UK’s ‘watch list’ or intercepted on arrival.
The trafficking and abasement of human beings is one of the tragedies of the age.
The Human Trafficking Foundation’s report sets out the scale and scope of the problem today, and how to deal with it. Talking back control is an opportunity, and the government has a duty to do so. That is what self-government means.
David Heathcoat-Amory is a former Conservative MP and minister. He is a trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
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