by GK Strategy 22nd September, 2016
3 min read

Beyond The Border

The UK Border Force is charged with enforcing and protecting the UK’s sovereign borders, a mission that sounds simple but is fraught with problems, controversies and dangers. The failure to get a grasp on the ongoing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, the growth of the ‘jungle’ in Calais, and the implications of Brexit are all headaches that will be keeping Sir Charles Montgomery, the Director General of Border Force, awake at night.

The much beleaguered Border Force regularly receives negative headlines for its inability to quickly process peoples’ entry into the UK and for its failure to prevent illegal migrants from crossing the borders. The spotlight on the Border Force is only likely to increase following the British public’s decision to vote to leave the European Union on 23rd June. Many have suggested that controlling immigration was a key driver for the referendum result, with growing criticism of successive government’s failure to effectively bring down net migration numbers. This issue has grown even more acute due the Mayor of Calais threatening to end the Le Touquet Agreement, which sees the British border enforcement carried out on French, rather than British, soil.

Last week, a report published by the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) suggested that the Border Force was not equipped to quickly, accurately and securely monitor passengers in and out of the UK. However, it placed the blame squarely with successive governments, rather than with individual Border Force staff. The report suggested that the Border Force had been continually underfunded as it has significant financial constraints placed on it by governments. Furthermore, the ASI suggested that the Force had been let down by Whitehall’s failure to deliver on the IT projects that it so desperately needs.

Indeed, investment in technology, or the lack of, is something that the Border Force has been widely criticised for. One example of this is the only very recent introduction of digital exit checks on those leaving the UK to ensure that people are not overstaying their visas. It is clear that a sizeable investment in technology is one potential cure for the maladies of the Border Force, however technological investment alone would not render results and cost savings immediately, something that the Department of Health’s recent Wachter Review pointed out to be the case for the NHS.

It is not just at airports that Border Force has come under fire. In recent weeks, there has also been growing concern over the Border Force’s ability to protect the UK’s sea borders. In a recent interview on the BBC’s Today Programme, Martyn Underhill, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, suggested that a ‘perfect storm’ had been created to allow for illegal migration into the UK via boats. He cited a report by David Bolt, Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, which suggested that the Coastguard and Border Force are poorly trained at dealing with irregular migration via the sea.

When these growing developments are added to a withdrawing of resources from the coast in recent years, then it becomes clearer the extent of challenges that the Border Force are set to face.  The Coastguard, Border Force and Police Marine Units have all seen their budgets cut while Special Branch is also withdrawing its presence from the British coast. In addition, in January, when Theresa May was Home Secretary, she cancelled a contract with Cobham, an aerial surveillance provider, who had been providing round-the-clock surveillance of the UK’s borders. A decision Frank Hurst, former head of maritime operations at HM Customs and Excise referred to as ’short sighted.’

The Adam Smith Institute says that the Border Force should be held in the same esteem as the Army for keeping the UK safe from harm at home, however, it is going to need significant government backing and a considerable change of fortunes for that to be realised.

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