Thursday, July 27, 2006


Counting Out John Reid

It looks like John Reid is out for the count. So the much trumpeted ‘e-border’ will be in place not next year as we had been led to believe but 2014: eight years away. In the meantime, the new Home Secretary tells us that we will have a resumption of embarkation controls in respect of counting people out.

And what about counting people in?! Of the 90 million inward passenger movements annually we need to have a record of the number and who they are. We used to have this ….. until the year that Tony Blair came to power and the then Home secretary abolished these very controls.

This is what Reid said in the Commons: "We will progressively reinstate exit, ie embarkation controls in stages, starting with the higher risk routes and people, identify who overstays and count everyone in and out by 2014."

The purpose of implementation this way round is of course to find some real numbers that can be subtracted from the rising estimates of the numbers of illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers that remain here. News management. Wasn’t that what John Reid said he would not do? Border checks in and out need to be total, for all routes and all ports -- otherwise they will be easily circumvented -- and they need to be introduced now, not almost a decade hence -- with or without a dedicated IT system in place, which is the excuse for the long delay. There are to be "tougher checks abroad" for those requiring VISAs, but this amounts merely to taking fingerprints and other biometrics (iris scans?). The problem is that anything less than across-the-board provision allows wholesale circumvention. It is fatuous to claim that "tougher checks abroad" will ensure that everyone is above board before they set off to travel here: at the moment anyone can come here without being checked at a port of entry in any way at all!

The same news management imperative was all too apparent with the attempt at the weekend to head off the bad news of the Commons Select Committee’s scathing attack on the Immigration & Nationality Directorate. Instead of taking it out of the clutches of the fatal culture at the Home Office, Reid told us that it will be placed merely at ‘arms length’. Just the job for both ministers and mandarins to wash their hands of the whole immigration and asylum debacle whilst at the same time keeping it under the ‘target culture’ and the various forms of the dead hand of bad government that the Home Office and their political masters conspire to achieve.

There is even some blatant buck-passing in the shape of forcing airlines to provide more information on passengers. Since when did the Home Office and our overseas VISA sections divest control of our borders to foreign national carriers and airline companies?

Some risible gesturing is also in there with the idea of nice new uniforms for the Immigration Service frontline. Lady Mar had something to say about that on the BBC yesterday. She is the immigration judge who finally resigned in disgust at the non-expulsion of those she ordered to be deported or ‘removed‘. She pointed out that the first thing to get right was to have round-the-clock staff at Heathrow. (They also need to be trained properly, given the equipment they need, and stationed permanently instead of in flying squads.)

In essence it is quite simple what needs to be done, but neither Reid nor anyone else in Government or at the Home Office seem remotely inclined even to suggest what needs doing. On the basis that the Home Office will remain an ongoing basket case neither capable nor desirous of performing the first function of a state: to maintain borders ….. then we must erect an internal gateway system to make up for the absence of an external one.

In a nutshell, this is a bit like the notion behind Colditz. Get all of the bits of administration that need to work together but are actually barely on speaking terms and put them together in a brand new ministry. So instead of sinking the IND somewhere in the English Channel, it needs to be wedded to the new ID card database, the checking function currently non-existent within the DWP (that is supposed to look at the immigration history of those applying for national insurance numbers, benefits, etc), and so on. We can then require anyone making an initial attempt to access any government provided service to supply a fully evidenced residence history. In this way we may not be deporting the millions of people who should not be here and the still more millions that will arrive before 2014, but the fact that they can’t live a normal life like the rest of us will encourage them to find a normal life elsewhere.

Of course, we live in hope that the Home Office will get sorted and actually go looking for illegals, but don’t hold your breath; especially as for most hues of government this will be regarded as politically unfeasible. What is politically realistic is a new department that threatens the empires of old ones by hiving off functions if the likes of the Home Office and the DWP can’t get them right.

If the Lebanon had a border control system as unbefitting the name as we have, we would call it a failed state. Britain in this respect indeed is a failed state, and instead of fighting this ridiculous situation, our supposed prize fighter, John Reid, appears to have no sooner turned up for the bout than knocked himself out cold.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Reid Knows the Home Office Won't Get Sorted

John Reid has declared himself to be part of the Home Office farce with comical promises and a worst possible solution for the chunk of his Department concerned with immigration and asylum.

We can imagine the mutual back-slapping between the new Home Secretary and Whitehall mandarins when it was agreed to tow the Immigration & Nationality Directorate out of the harbour and scuttle it. The "arms length" at which the IND will be from both Home Office senior management and ministers is the perfect way for both sides to wash their hands of the immigration and asylum debacle. "Semi-autonomous" means that both Whitehall and Government can distance themselves from the endless bad news and be seen to be trying to do something about the problem in the light of the clear ‘dysfunction’ across the whole of the Home Office; whilst at the same time, the Government will of course retain the dead hand of its news management 'target culture' grip: it will be that much more direct and so even worse.

Another turn in Reid’s vaudeville act on Wednesday was his announcement that he will clear the backlog of failed asylum seekers in five years. This is crazier than the pronouncement by the outgoing immigration minister Tony McNulty on BBC Newsnight that all illegal immigrants will be ‘removed’ in ten years. Had Mr Reid not read the news from his own department the night before? The BBC had revealed that a trawl through Whitehall’s Cinderella department had revealed rather a lot of cardboard files on windowsills covered in post-it notes. The total number of failed asylum seekers was not the 200,000 plus that the Home Office previously had poo-pooed as being an excessive estimate, but 450,000; albeit that who knows how many may have left the country. As with McNulty’s laughable promise re illegal migrants, the problem is that there is no tracking of where any of these people are. Then there is the problem that not just ‘removal’ but even the rarer ‘deportation’ are completely unreliable stats: any individual so labelled may well be roaming the streets months after they were supposedly expelled. At the current rate of ‘removal’ by the Immigration Service, in five years the backlog of failed asylum seekers will have been reduced by about one per cent. Mr Reid knows that there is no danger of him being around to explain this.

There were other scarcely less believable forecasts of cutting down the time it takes to process applications to less than 10% of what it takes at the moment, and a guffaw-inducing ultra precise prediction of a reduction in applications that are expected to come in. As to what actually was to be the means of doing any of what Reid announced, we are possibly to find out next week. When Parliament is safely in recess? Or when the Government has decided what it might do in the light of the tone of the response to Wednesday‘s ‘kite flying‘?

The problems at the Home Office are at every level and in every nook and cranny. There is no prospect in the short to medium term, if ever, of it becoming ’fit for purpose’ other than for its starring role as Whitehall standing joke. Cutting a small proportion of head office staff and deploying them to the periphery is not going to do very much. Staff don't have the training to do the jobs they do already, management is of poor quality given the longstanding recruitment problems, and those at the top are politically driven appointments of those who may think radically but have little idea how to implement the very different sort of radical changes neded. There is a culture of an old creaking way of doing Government hand-in-hand with the glorious excuse of being the lead Government department for ‘equal opportunities and diversity’. Meta issues grab Home Office minds and not only distract from the real work they are supposed to do but directly hinder implementation of policy. The ethos of political correctness fascism ensures that applicants to migrate here are regarded as having an inalienable right to do so unless special reason is found not to admit them. Poorly trained staff under pressure not to reject more than a very small proportion and not to waste time checking evidence -- on pain of disciplinary action -- are forced to comply with the Home Office‘s refusal to perform a gateway function. This suits both senior management and their political masters, given that life is made easier all round and the political correctness outlook of the political classes is a shared one.

What is needed is radical action based on the assumption that the Home Office is an ongoing basket case. Instead of a quasi independent IND there has to be a genuinely separate Government department, and one that has the capacity to remove functions from the Home Office and also from the DWP -- which catastrophically fails to check the immigration status of those claiming benefits or trying to get a National Insurance number. Threatening ‘empire’ is perhaps the only language mandarins understand. The new ministry should be the home of the ID card database, which can be used as the focus of an integrated system to prevent those living here illegally from having a normal life. If the Home Office can’t and won’t act as a gateway for our borders, then we will have to erect internal gateways, where detailed residence history will have to be provided the fist time an individual makes an attempt to access benefits, claim tax credits, get a passport or a NINO, etc. A new ministry that houses the various bits that for a long time have not been on speaking terms might seem like the rationale behind Colditz, but it cannot conceiveably be worse than the status quo!

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