» Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Counter Terrorism

Asked if the Border Force would involve any new money and any increase in staffing, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) replied that there were four points to characterise what we were trying to achieve here:

  • Firstly, bringing together the Borders and Immigration Agency, UK Visas and Customs as an integrated force would lead to better sharing of information. So for example, instead of having three memos going round the system about a particular piece of intelligence for example, there would now be one single source of information and intelligence in one agency.
  • The second change was that there would now be a common set of objectives. A simple example would be if a customs officer was interviewing somebody and had concerns over their immigration status. At present it would not be their problem as they are a customs officer, but if they had common objectives they would be able to pick up any immigration issues that might arise from their day to day customs business.
  • The third rationale for doing this was to give people a common set of powers. Using the same example, if a customs officer identified an issue with someone’s immigration status, he would have the same powers as an immigration officer to do something about it.
  • And fourthly, this was a better use of resources because there was a greater pool of individuals that could be deployed. This would lead to scope for greater flexibility. If for example there was particular intelligence that there might be an issue around a small port, because their would be a greater pool of resources that could be drawn on, this body would have more flexibility to deploy resources flexibly.

In terms of the specifics, there were steps being taken immediately such as the uniform for the immigration service, but many of the specific issues would be picked up in the O’Donnell review. As well as looking at whether or not we needed to go further, the review would also look at some of the immediate implementation issues.

Asked again if there would be extra money and extra people, the PMS replied that this was something, in terms of the specifics, that would need to be looked at as part of the review led by the Cabinet Secretary.

Put that whenever the Conservatives had raised this issue in recent years, Government Ministers had instantly asked how much would it cost and where the money would come from, and asked if there was any sense of the costing, the PMS replied that this was primarily about making better use of existing resources. Put that we were therefore not really talking about a lot, the PMS replied that once Gus O’Donnell had examined this in detail and looked at the specifics of how this might be rolled out, and whether or not we could go further, then those issues might arise. But primarily, this was about making better use of existing resources, making them better coordinated, making them integrated, and allowing us to use existing resources more flexibly.

Asked if it was really going to be called just "The Border Force", the PMS replied that this was the working title for now.

Asked why this had taken so long, and was it because of the change of Prime Minister, or was it triggered by something else, the PMS replied that he did not think that this had taken long. Clearly there was already legislation going through the House which would bring greater alignment to the powers of immigration officers and customs officers, so this was going with the grain of legislation and change in recent years. This needed to be looked at alongside what we were doing on e-borders, something the Prime Minister emphasised in his statement. So the first line of defence was what we were doing through biometric visas and e-borders, and that should prevent fewer people from coming into the country who we did not want in the country in the first place, because those checks happen outside the UK. In a sense what we were doing here was hardening the second line of defence.

Asked who actually said that we favoured 56 days, the PMS replied that we had not specifically said 56 days. This was the first of the four options that we set out, and we said that we would consider extending the period up to twice the existing period. We were not saying that 56 days was our preferred proposal, we were saying that we wanted to build a consensus, there were a number of options, and up to 56 days was the first of the four options we presented.

Asked to clarify that the Prime Minister mentioned the additional 28 days in his statement, but this did not appear in document, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister’s statement was the Prime Minister’s statement, and that was the statement of the Government’s position.

Asked if the Home Office document also said that this was the preferred option, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister said this in his statement as well. Clearly this was the first option that he identified, and it was pretty clear that this was the conclusion one could draw.

Asked what the rational was for not including the police, the PMS replied that this would be a very big organisational and structural change, and something that would need to be looked at carefully in light of all of the evidence. That was one of the things that the Gus O’Donnell review would look at. Asked to clarify that this would be in the review, the PMS replied that the Gus O’Donnell review would look at how we implement the unified border force, and he would also look at the case for going further.

Asked when this would happen, and asked who head the force, the PMS replied that we were not in the position to go into detail. Different elements were coming in at different times, for example uniformed immigration officers would happen at the start of next month.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

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