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.

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