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May faces Parliament over border checks row

Home Secretary Theresa May is due to make a statement to the Commons today over the alleged relaxation of border controls over the summer to keep queues short.

The head of the UK Border Agency, Brodie Clark, has been suspended while chief inspector of the agency John Vine conducts an inquiry into the allegations that hundreds of thousands of people entered Britain without being checked against the Home Office register of suspected terrorists and illegal immigrants.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper wrote to May yesterday, saying people were “understandably appalled and shocked” at the revelations, and said: “We need to know whether anyone posing a threat to Britain's national security was allowed to enter the UK during the period where the decision of ministers to relax passport checks was taken further than the Home Office has said was ordered.”

Unions representing immigration staff say cuts to personnel numbers were causing huge queues, and that orders came down for checks to be cut back to the most basic type – and that this decision was authorised by ministers.

The Home Office has so far said that border staff were asked to ‘streamline’ checks on EU nationals entering the UK, but so that priority could be given to checks of potential terrorists and illegal immigrants, not to do with queues.

Allegations have surfaced, however, the non-EU nationals were also waved through with only more basic checks – with no check on the biometric chips in their passports, or a check of fingerprints and other details against the database of terror suspects.

Lucy Moreton from the Immigration Service Union told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s certainly true officers were told they no longer needed to perform the detailed biometric checks.

“We were not aware the minister didn’t know. As far as we were aware, as far as staff were aware, this had been ministerially sanctioned because it’s a requirement. We are not allowed to make that decision ourselves, to relax those controls – it is for the discretion of the minister only.”

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