UK Border Force Urged to ‘Deprioritise’ Guns, Drugs Searches to Cut Queues | UK security and counterterrorism

Airport managers urged Border Force officers to “deprioritize” customs work, such as searching for weapons and drugs, in order to prevent passport queues from frustrating travelers.

Leaked emails show that staff at Manchester Airport were told this month that customs work should only be carried out if “excessive queue time is not likely”.

That meant there would be no spot checks for illegal firearms, offensive weapons or drugs by customs officials, the sources said. Searches can be initiated by an intelligence job, such as an A-category order – a rare response requested by National Border Targeting Center intelligence.

The Guardian understands that staff are under intense pressure from ministers to keep queues moving fast, particularly during half-time in parts of the UK. Heathrow officials said they were also told not to “proactively” work at customs during the February school holidays.

The revelations came as Home Office sources said there was growing concern within the government that there would be another Easter and summer of chaos at UK ports and airports.

It follows a highly critical review of last year’s Border Force by Alexander Downer, commissioned by former Home Secretary Priti Patel. The review concluded that the Border Force’s work to keep out firearms and Class A drugs had been “watered down.”

The leaked email was sent by Phil Boyle, Border Force North’s assistant director, on Feb. 9 to the team, days before the start of many school holidays.

“I want to confirm the steps we need to take to stabilize the excessive waiting times at the PCP (primary control point) and make the best use of the resources we have available to protect the border”, says the email.

“Effective immediately, I have asked ADs (Assistant Directors) to implement the following:

At Heathrow, staff said they were also diverted to checking passports. “The priority was to make sure people were getting off and coming back from their holidays – many were going skiing – without interruption.”

Downer’s report criticizes customs training for Border Force officers, saying it was completed on the job and downgraded. Customs checks were being abandoned as Border Force personnel working in regional hubs were being diverted to busier ports such as Heathrow, he said.

“Border Force deploys staff from across the UK to manage the shortage at Heathrow and the country’s south-east ports, moving staff away from their home ports, reducing resilience in those ports and the ability to carry out discretionary work, but important than what the public expects from the Border Force, such as customs checks on passenger channels at airports,” the report says.

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Last year, the Independent Chief Border Inspector recommended that the Home Office review its practices to ensure it covered customs checks after an inspection at Birmingham Airport revealed that there were no Border Force staff working at customs because they had been diverted to passport controls to facilitate lines.

David Neal, the Chief Inspector, recommended that the Home Office review checks to maintain adequate coverage of both areas or risk leaving the borders at risk for organized crime.

“It was alarming to discover that no Border Force personnel were present in customs channels during our inspection. Instead, officers were deployed to passport control to avoid building up long queues,” he said.

At the time, the Home Office partially accepted Neal’s recommendation and said in a statement that “Border Force workforce planners are working closely with frontline operations to model and review the number of personnel required. at each port to provide sufficient coverage for all mandatory activities including immigration and customs checks”.

Responding to the leaked email and Heathrow’s claims, Home Office sources said the email was taken out of context and customs work continued as usual.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Border Force’s number one priority is keeping our borders safe and secure for all passengers, and we will never compromise on that.

“During peak periods, resources are continually evaluated to balance all pressures. Resources are dynamically deployed using intelligence and data to intervene in potential threats.”

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