While the mantra of every enthusiastic Brexiteer has been ” we are taking back control” of our borders the irony is quietly over Easter the Whitehall body responsible for checking it postponed vital investigations to ensure it happens.
David Bolt, the independent chief inspector of Borders and Immigration, announced changes to the planned schedule of investigations – entirely because of the failure of ministers to sort out the Brexit negotiations.
The chief inspector’s job is to make sure that the UK has an efficient and fair system of immigration and customs controls – precisely because once we are out of the EU it will become even more important that they work properly. It also identifies risks of smuggling and illegal immigration.
However ministerial failure to sort this out – notably by Theresa May and David Davis the Brexit Secretary, now means that planned inspections cannot take place this year and have been postponed for at least 12 months if not longer.
The biggest casualty has been a big 350 day long investigation and inspection of West Coast ports – notably Swansea, Fishguard, Holyhead,Liverpool and Stranraer among others – due to begin now and postponed until next year.
The reason is starkly included in the revised timetable. ” Deferred from 2018-19; timing subject to agreement on the CTA arrangements after the UK exits the EU.“
These sparse words basically mean ” Can no do because Britain and the EU cannot agree on the future of the Irish border and how the common travel area will work and it will be a waste of time to do it now because it could all change”.
It also means that we may not know whether the new arrangements are working until well after we have left the EU.
Nor is it the only investigation deferred. A similar investigation this year was going to look at customs control over freight operation scheduled for 2019-20. The timetable now says : Inspection scope and timing subject to agreement on the handling of freight after the UK’s exit from the EU.
Again failure to decide exactly whether there will be tariffs on goods means could well be delayed and we won’t know how this is working either.
Meanwhile this year an inspection into the ” points” system for immigration has had to be significantly widened to include rules for Inspection of “Brexit preparedness”, focusing on resourcing and processes for the registration and settlement of
There also has been a knock on effect on other investigations including delays to a further in country investigation into modern slavery and a one year delay in investigating NHS charging because of insufficient resources. They could also be a delay to an investigation into illegal working in the UK.
David Bolt adds: “I have therefore created space within the Plan for various ‘Brexit’-related pieces of work, the precise shape and timing of which are not yet fixed. I will announce specific inspections in the normal way via the website as soon as I am able.”
The organisation is one of the few not to suffer Whitehall austerity cuts but as people leave it is finding it difficult to recruit new people which could be a new worry.
His statement ends with a plea for people to join the service. “If you believe that you have the necessary qualities and are interested in joining the inspectorate, please keep an eye on the website, where any vacancies will be advertised.”
This seems yet another example of how the failure to sort out an early timetable for Brexit is leaving a trail of unfinished business across Whitehall – and a fresh danger of chaos at our borders after we have left.