UK Home Secretary criticised for censoring immigration report

Opposition politicians and immigration activists criticised the UK's Home Secretary on 8th August 2013 after she used her powers to redact or censor a report by the country's Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine.

The shadow immigration minister, Chris Bryant, asked 'what possible reason can there be for redacting elements of a report by a highly-respected independent inspector?' and concluded 'this is a cover-up to hide her own failings.

The leader of the anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP, Nigel Farage, said 'It is extremely concerning that a report into the operations of our border security is being censored by the Home Office. We have to ask them, what on earth are they hiding?'

Preventing illegal immigration

The report; Inspection of Juxtaposed Controls, November 2012 – March 2013, deals with the way in which UK immigration officers cooperate with their French and Belgian counterparts. In particular, it concerns the way in which they cooperate to prevent people without permission to enter the UK from entering the country illegally.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May MP, caused 15 redactions to be made to the Chief Inspector's report. She is entitled to make such redactions under the UK Borders Act 2007 Section 50 providing that they are made on the grounds of national security.

Speaking to the BBC on the morning of 8th August, immigration minister Mark Harper said that the Home Secretary was within her rights to have the document redacted because the cuts were made on national security grounds. He denied that the redactions had been made to save the Home Secretary embarrassment.

Inspector has at times been 'very critical' of UK immigration

He said 'If you look at the history of the reports that the chief inspector has produced, I think it would be fair to say that a number of them have previously been very critical for example of the UK Border Agency, in some cases very critical. In those cases, the Home Secretary has not used her powers to redact any of those reports'.

But, writing in UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph, David Barrett and Rosa Silverman point out that the current report may be more personally embarrassing for the Home Secretary than previous reports because some of the Chief Inspector's criticisms concern the operation of the UK Border Force, a body that was created by Mrs May in 2012. It has previously always been possible for Mrs May to blame the failures of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) on the previous Labour administration which created the agency in 2008.

Mrs May abolished the UKBA in April this year. She said that it was 'not good enough' and said that it had developed a secretive culture.

Heavy redaction of the report

The chief Inspector made several recommendations in his report, one of which was completely redacted. Among his other findings, Mr Vine suggests that UK Border Force officers should fingerprint those who are apprehended trying to enter the UK illegally so that they can later be identified if they try again under a different identity. He also made a suggestion about the closure of the 'Lille loophole'. This refers to fears that immigrants can avoid border security and enter the UK illegally by travelling from Lille to the UK. The Home Secretary had this section completely redacted from the report.

Speaking on the BBC, Mr Harper said that the Home Office was reviewing its procedures but said that taking fingerprints is a time consuming procedure. He told The Today Programme 'It consumes a large amount of time for our officers to do that when they could be using that time to carry out other tasks to secure the border and it's a balance and the decision that was taken in 2010 was to work very closely with our French colleagues [and] for them to process people trying to the United Kingdom illegally'.

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