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Home Sec splits Border Agency after passport checks fiasco

May: Secure ID suspension lacked 'ministerial consent'

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Blighty's Border Force is to be divorced from the UKBA following a series of embarrassing passport check gaffes last summer, the Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs yesterday.

"[F]rom 1 March, the UK Border Force will be split from UKBA and will become a separate operational command, with its own ethos of law enforcement, led by its own Director General, and accountable directly to ministers," said the minister, who issued a border security statement in the Palace of Westminster on Monday afternoon.

It was revealed in November 2011 that during the busy summer months, immigration border guards had been told to ignore biometric chips on the passports of non-eurozone citizens.

Staff were also told to stop cross-checking personal information and fingerprints against a Home Office database of terror suspects and illegal immigrants.

MPs demanded answers from May in the Commons and on the home affairs select committee, and asked the Home Secretary to explain the relaxation of some border control procedures under her watch.

In the Commons yesterday, May reiterated that she hadn't given "ministerial consent" to the UK Border Force chief, Brodie Clark, who eventually quit his job following the political fiasco.

The Cabinet minister admitted at the time that "biometric checks were abandoned on a regular basis" but claimed she had never authorised such action.

The row was ignited last autumn, after it was revealed that May had sanctioned a pilot that commenced in July last year that was intended to target what the politico described as "high-risk passengers" entering UK ports.

She insisted that Clark had overstepped the mark by further relaxing passport check controls without first consulting May.

The minister told MPs yesterday that independent chief inspector of the UKBA, John Vine, had completed his report on the passport checks cockup.

Vine found that the "Secure ID - the system for checking the fingerprints of foreign nationals who require a visa to come to Britain - was suspended on a number of occasions without ministerial approval," May said.

The Home Secretary added:

In May 2011 - when officials asked for permission to sometimes suspend Secure ID checks - I explicitly refused. Despite that clear instruction, the Vine Report finds that Secure ID checks continued to be suspended at Heathrow.

The Report also confirms that checks on the biometric chip - which contains a second photograph and no further information - were sometimes suspended without ministerial approval.

May said that it was necessary to split the UKBA and the Border Force into two and added that just making changes at management level was not enough for an organisation blighted with problems from the moment it was founded in 2008. ®

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