Home Office delivery of Brexit: immigration Contents

3Border Force

88.The Border Force directorate is responsible for securing the UK border, protecting against the movement of illegitimate goods, collecting customs revenues and controlling immigration at 140 ports, airports and train stations across the UK and overseas. In terms of immigration services, Border Force is responsible for checking every passenger at the border and preventing illegal immigration (for example via lorry drops). In 2016, over 37 million non-British EEA nationals, 16.3 million non-EEA nationals and 76 million UK nationals arrived in the UK.97 Under Brexit, Border Force will have to implement any changes to immigration checks at the border, as well as changes to customs checks at the border.


89.In 2016–17 there were an average of 7,670 full-time Border Force officers, a reduction from the 8,332 officers employed in 2014–15.98 The reduction in officers has meant members of staff being diverted regularly from customs operations to the priority service of immigration control.99 Mike Jones, Home Office Group Secretary for the PCS union, told us that staff shortages and high levels of turnover were leading to shifts not being covered adequately and existing staff working additional hours and six-day patterns.100

90.In the 2017 civil service staff survey Border Force scored second lowest of all parts of government for acceptable workload and just three out of ten officials described it as a “great place to work”.101 Mike Jones described “constantly [getting] messages from people saying morale is at an absolute all-time low [ … ] They’ve never seen it so bad.”102 In his 2017 inspection of Gatwick airport the Independent Chief Inspector reported that operations appeared to be under considerable strain overall with some groups of staff feeling undervalued.103 He found Border Force to be overly reliant on mobile and seasonal staff who have limited training. He told us the same was true at Stansted airport and elsewhere.104

91.The ICIBI’s inspection of east coast sea ports revealed that “coverage of smaller, normally unmanned, east coast ports and landing places was poor, with almost half of them not having had a visit from a Border Force officer for more than a year.”105 In our recent report Immigration policy: basis for building a consensus we noted two occasions in which there were no Border Force officials available to meet incoming flights at regional airports causing passengers to be held until officials could be transferred from other locations.106 It has also been reported that waiting time targets at airports are regularly breached; at Heathrow, Border Force failed to meet waiting-time targets more than 100 times on 29 December 2017, which Lucy Moreton, General Secretary of the Immigration Services Union (ISU), put down to staffing pressures.107 In response to our report on customs operations, the Home Office stated that “workflow is actively monitored to ensure sufficient resources are in place to meet demand at the border.”108 The evidence we have received would suggest that this is not the case, and Home Office policy is not to release data on staff presence at key ports of entry.

92.The Home Office is seeking to employ more Border Force staff. The Permanent Secretary told us that 300 additional officers were being recruited, with the aim of them being in place by September 2018 and trained by March 2019, “to ensure that we can deal with the consequences of leaving the European Union with a deal or without a deal”.109 However, the ISU believed that the additional numbers would do no more than backfill existing vacancies while the PCS told us that the figure was in fact 252 new officers.110

93.We are increasingly alarmed about the impact that inadequate resources are having on the capacity for Border Force to operate effectively. This is a system which has not functioned properly for a number of years, in large part due to insufficient staffing. The consequences of a lack of resources have implications for the smooth operation of the border, the morale and wellbeing of staff, and the quality of frontline immigration services.

Border checks after Brexit

94.As we noted in our report on customs operations, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal or if there is no customs union or partnership, then there will be a significant increase in demand on customs services, which will have a knock-on effect on the ability of Border Force officials also to deliver frontline immigration services.111 It is clear that a Brexit which involves leaving the customs union will have significant impacts. Any additional controls on goods or passengers crossing from Ireland to the UK will place an extra burden on Border Force resources. The PCS voiced concerns over the lack of clarity about what is planned for the border. They explained that there are currently 57 Border Force officers in Northern Ireland covering four major sea ports, three main airports and a land border over 335 miles long, and pointed out that the workforce will increase by just six following the recent recruitment exercise.112

95.The latest National Strategic Assessment of Organised and Serious Crime from the National Crime Agency (NCA) identifies illegal immigration facilitated by criminal gangs as an increasing threat to the UK.113 London First suggest that any further restriction on legitimate travel to the UK from the EU has the potential to increase demand for forged or stolen documentation and more forms of illegal travel. They noted that this threat would “necessitate greater intelligence sharing as well as joint working, all of which require investment in new technology and sufficient numbers of Border Force officers on the ground and at sea”.114 This view is supported by RUSI who caution that if adequate provision is not made to ensure a secure and efficient border then “there is no doubt that highly agile and resourceful Organised Crime Groups will be quick to capitalise on the vulnerabilities this will present.”115 The Home Office told us that it had set up a specific work-stream to analyse the requirements which might arise from EU exit and that it was “actively planning for contingencies”.116

96.British citizens, nationals of other EEA countries and people with ‘Registered Traveller’ status are subject to minimal immigration checks and can use electronic (‘e-passport’) gates if they travel with the required ‘chipped’ passport.117 Non-EEA nationals have to undergo a basic passport check, possibly accompanied by a further fingerprint check to ensure a biometric identity match with a visa application, and can expect to spend twice as long at the border before being cleared for entry.

97.Any changes in the way entry to the UK is controlled will need to take account of the potential impact on flows and throughput at the border. The Government has been clear that it wants visa-free travel for EEA nationals to remain after the UK leaves the EU but it has yet to say whether existing entry arrangements will continue.118 London First has argued that, if the Government wishes to apply similar checks to EEA nationals as it does to non-EEA nationals, then questions arise over the ability of Border Force to cope with the increased workload and the physical capacity of receiving points of entry.119 The Airport Operators Association (AOA) predict that a hard border regime would require Border Force to commit significantly more resources to processing EEA travellers and that queueing times for them would still almost double.120

98.The AOA notes that Border Force has asked some airports where redevelopment of terminals is taking place or is planned to make changes to their plans to safeguard space for changes in the border halls. It states that this approach is “costing those airports tens of millions of pounds in additional development costs without it being clear if they will ever need to be used.”121 The AOA also told us that Border Force resources were “already stretched to breaking point” and that airports across the UK had seen significant increases in queue lengths at passport control in recent years. The AOA believes that the primary reason for this was that Border Force’s budget had not kept up with passenger growth.122

99.The Government needs to clarify whether it wants additional checks at the border on EEA nationals entering the UK after March 2019 or not. It is clear to us that Border Force does not currently have the capacity to deliver this and will struggle to put sufficient additional capacity and systems in place—particularly if it also faces additional pressure to carry out customs checks as a result of the Government’s decisions on a customs union. We have warned in a previous report that it would be unacceptable to switch Border Force staff away from security and immigration checks to deal with new customs checks.

100.Border Force’s staff are committed and professional but they are already overworked and there is an over-reliance on agency workers who lack the experience and skills of their permanent colleagues. We welcome the decision to recruit more staff but in our view the number identified by the Home Office is very likely to be insufficient to backfill existing vacancies, let alone deal with any additional workload that different entry requirements would present. We recommend that the Home Office increase the number of permanent Border Force staff. It should also recognise and urgently address the problem of low morale amongst Border Force staff who carry out such crucial and sensitive work.

101.The terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union will have a significant impact on the management of both goods and people at the border. There are real concerns that Border Force will struggle to cope with an expansion of its activities, and that airports and other points of entry to the UK lack the physical capacity to carry out additional checks on people and goods. We urge the Government to be realistic about the current limitations in the way Border Force operates and the lack of time left to make substantial changes to the border arrangements for either goods or people before March 2019 without significant disruption, problems or security challenges. Rushed and under-resourced changes will put border security at risk. The lack of clarity on the future relationship with Ireland also poses particular challenges for Scottish and Welsh ports, and of course for Northern Ireland. As we recommended in our report on customs, we believe that the Government should aim to agree transitional arrangements with the EU which involve no practical change to customs operations, either in the UK or the EU.

E-passport gates

102.E-passport gates are viewed by the Home Office as being one of the main ways in which Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for passenger processing can be maintained in the face of reduced Border Force funding.123 They are available to passengers with a ‘chipped’ passport, and allow them to pass through immigration control much more quickly than via a staffed kiosk, whilst requiring fewer operational resources. The Home Office is increasing the number of e-passport gates available at ports. It has also trialled doubling the number of e-passport gates that a Border Force Monitoring Officer can oversee (from 5 to 10) and is now in the process of rolling out this change more widely.

103.During his inspection of Gatwick airport the ICIBI found that there were occasions when some e-passport gates were closed due to insufficient monitoring staff and other times when the gates were in operation but with no staff present, which is a breach of the ministerial conditions for their use.124 The Chief Inspector told us that while the e-passport gates can ease the burden on staff,

[ … ] the issue for me is whether the e-gates are dealing sufficiently with more vulnerable arrivals, particularly the safeguarding aspects for children and victims of modern slavery, who might be going through those gates and whether the level of coverage of the gates is sufficient to give assurance that those risks are being properly managed.125

104.The Home Office states that the ‘revised IT system’ in the gates will reduce the amount of ‘button pressing’ required, which means that a Monitoring Officer can reasonably be asked to monitor up to 10 gates. The PCS have raised concerns about workload impact and error rates and are pushing for an additional Roving Officer to oversee e-passport gates.126

105.The roll-out of more e-passport gates at ports is welcome and may help free up Border Force resources if EEA nationals can continue to use them after Brexit. As the Independent Chief Inspector has made clear, there need to be sufficient staff to monitor e-passport gates, particularly when there are safeguarding concerns in respect of children and potential victims of modern slavery. The Government should set out what action it is taking to ensure this risk is properly managed.

97 Home Office migration data, Table AD 01, 30 November 2017

98 Home Office, Annual Report and Accounts 2016–17, HC 20 and 2014–15, HC 12

99 Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, Border Force operations at Gatwick, July 2017, 12 July 2017

100 Q353

101 HM Government, Civil Service People survey, 2017

102 Buzzfeed news, The people guarding the UKs borders say they’re struggling to cope, and it’ll only get worse, after Brexit, 2 January 2018;

103 Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, Border Force operations at Gatwick, July 2017, 12 July 2017

104 Q284

105 Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, Border Force operations at east coast seaports, July 2017, 12 July 2017

106 Home Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2017–19, Immigration policy: basis for building consensus, HC 500

107 Mail on Sunday, Welcome to Britain? Hardly. Heathrow border chaos is forcing passengers to endure queues of up to two-and-a-half hours at passport control, 6 January 2018; Border Force operates maximum waiting time targets. The Key Performance Indicators are 25 minutes for EEA visitors compared to 45 minutes for non-EEA citizens. On 29 December 2017 queue targets were missed on 101 occasions when queue times were checked every 15 minutes during the day. In 17 cases queue times for non-EEA travellers exceeded 85 minutes. The longest queue time was 150 minutes at Terminal 4 for non-EEA travellers; Written evidence submitted by the Airport Operators Association [IMM0005]

108 Home Affairs Committee, Fourth Special Report of Session 2017–19, Home Office delivery of Brexit: customs operations: Government response to the Committee’s First Report, HC 754

109 Oral evidence taken on 17 October 2017, HC 434, Q125

110 Written evidence submitted by the PCS [CTD0029]

111 First Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2017–19, Home Office delivery of Brexit: customs operations, HC 540. See also Government Response, Fourth Special Report, HC 754

112 Written evidence submitted by the PCS [CTD0029]

116 Home Affairs Committee, Fourth Special Report of Session 2017–19, Home Office delivery of Brexit: customs operations: Government response to the Committee’s First Report, HC 754; Oral evidence taken on 17 October 2017, HC 434, Q41

117 Registered Traveller membership is available to nationals of 40 countries and territories. It allows members to use UK and EU passport lanes and e-passport gates. To be a member an individual must have a UK visa or entry clearance or have visited the UK at least four times in the last two years. See https://www.gov.uk/registered-traveller/eligibility; EEA nationals are currently permitted to travel using passports or their national ID cards.

118 Q313 [Lucy Moreton]; Written evidence submitted by the PCS [CTD0029]

120 Written evidence submitted by the Airport Operators Association [IMM0005]

121 Written evidence submitted by the Airport Operators Association [IMM0005]

122 Written evidence submitted by the Airport Operators Association [IMM0005]. In 2012–13, the budget was £617 million while in 2016–17 it was £558.1m – a 10% reduction (see HC Deb 20 April 2016 col 923). Over the same period, passenger numbers have increased by 15%, according to figures from the Civil Aviation Authority.

123 Written evidence submitted by the Airport Operators Association [IMM0005]

124 Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, Border Force operations at Gatwick, July 2017, 12 July 2017

125 Q284

126 PCS Home Office branch website, Departmental proposals to increase e-gate monitoring role to 10 gates, 8 November 2017

9 February 2018