Theresa May plays blame game on UK border controls

Nov 8, 2011

May needs to smarten up her ministerial act - but the immigration debate must also grow up

HOME SECRETARY Theresa May has been accused of presiding over a scheme which weakened border controls and may have let terrorists enter Britain unchecked. While May admitted she had authorised UK Border Agency officials to relax security procedures on some European travellers, she also blamed Brodie Clark, head of the UK border force, for scaling back checks on non-European visitors beyond what ministers had agreed. Is this just another case of a minister passing the buck?
No excuses

It’s been excruciating for Home Secretary Theresa May, says an editorial in the Daily Mail. She may be upset that a public servant, apparently without ministerial approval, "recklessly relaxed checks for potential terrorists and illegal immigrants". But she also sanctioned a relaxation of border controls to ease queues in the busy summer months.
May must quickly get a grip on the chaotic UK border agency, says the Mail. Labour may have wrecked border controls, but the Tories were elected to fix them. "There can be no excuses".
Border control lost long ago

There is always something unedifying about politicians blaming their officials when things go wrong in their departments, says an editorial in The Daily Telegraph. May is adamant that the border debacle is not her fault, but what we don’t know is precisely what May authorised, and "why border agency managers felt they had greater room for manoeuvre than ministers say they intended".
But it ill behoves Labour to make a "song and dance" about this affair, given that it was the last government who lost control of our borders. We may not know exactly who is responsible for this mess, but "we certainly know who was responsible for the last one".
Culture of chaos

It may have been New Labour who introduced the doctrine of "when under pressure, blame your civil servants", but Conservatives have taken it to new heights, says an editorial in The Independent. May is trying to make a distinction between what she personally signed for, and what her civil servants did. But the job of a minister is not just to set policy for his or her department, it is also "to establish the culture in which it operates".
The culture operating at the UK Border agency seems to be one of chaos, says an editorial in The Times. It has not happened in a vacuum. It’s been five years since then Home Secretary John Reid described Britain’s immigration department as "not fit for purpose". The UKBA was formed in 2008 to put this right, but has continued the chaos by another name.
May is the Home Secretary of a government that has proclaimed it will "reclaim our borders", adds the Times. Yet "it is not only unavoidable cuts which make this harder, but avoidable incompetence too".
The rhetoric does more damage

The "crisis rhetoric" in political discussions about migration is the most damaging, says an editorial in The Guardian. It turns immigration into "the recruiting sergeant of the extreme right".
Yes, the UK border agency must improve, says the Guardian. The Home Secretary must also be more transparent. But "the conversation about immigration has to grow up".

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