- BI Exclusive: The UK government has failed to recruit the 1,000 new border workers it promised ahead of Brexit, despite pledging to do so a year ago.
- The delay means the UK could be unprepared to cope with the strain of a no-deal Brexit on its borders.
- A leading union chief representing border workers tells Business Insider that “[Border Force staff] can barely manage business as usual, let alone cope with these new challenges.”
- The Home Office insists they are continuing to recruit staff.
LONDON – Theresa May’s government has failed to hire the 1,000 border staff it promised to recruit in time for Brexit, triggering fears that Britain’s borders could be overwhelmed if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
A National Audit Office report last year suggested that the UK would need up to 2,000 extra border workers in the long-term to cope with a no-deal Brexit.
However, sources told Business Insider that the government has failed to even recruit the 1,000 new customs and immigration staff it promised to hire last year in anticipation of new border checks when the UK leaves the EU.
Around 600 of those promised additional staff were to prepare specifically for the extra capacity needed for Brexit, with another 450 recruited to replace outgoing staff.
But the Border Force is yet to hire many of those new recruits as the clock ticks down to Brexit, despite officials saying the process was “well underway” in July last year, and despite the department’s original intention to recruit 600 additional staff for Brexit by March 2019.
“We have attracted, I think, something over 10,000 applicants for those up to 1,000 roles,” Home Office Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam told MPs last July.
“Those applicants are being interviewed and sifted as we speak, so that is also well underway,” he said.
However, sources told Business Insider that the majority of the new recruits would not be hired in time for Brexit on March 29.
That means the staff will not be in place if the UK fails to secure a Brexit transition period and leaves the EU without a deal, a move which would place an even greater strain on the already stretched department.
Lucy Moreton, general secretary of the Immigration Services Union, which represents border staff in the UK, said the hiring process was facing major delays because it was unclear where resources would need to be allocated after Brexit – at seaports, airports, postal centres or freight centres, for example.
“In March 2018, we were promised that 1,000 staff would be in post by March 2019,” she said.
“The majority of those have not been recruited due to ongoing certainty about where they will be needed.
“At the moment, [Border Force] can barely manage business as usual, let alone cope with these new challenges.”
Moreton said that approximately 300 new officers had been recruited and deployed so far, adding that it was inevitable that the Border Force’s workload would increase in the event of a no-deal Brexit, in particular because officers would need to significantly increase the number of checks carried out on inbound freight from Europe.
The Home Office did not reveal how many staff had been recruited to date, but the official total is understood to fall significantly short of the target to hire approximately 600 extra officers specifically for Brexit.
As of October 2018, the department had seen just 149 offers of recruitment accepted, according to an October report from the National Audit Office (NAO).
A Home Office spokesperson said a “readiness task force” of 300 Border Force staff, who were hired before the latest recruitment drive, would allow existing staff to undertake Brexit-related training and insisted that the government would be prepared for all possible Brexit outcomes.
“It is the duty of any responsible government to prepare for every eventuality, including the scenario that we reach March 2019 without agreeing a deal,” said the spokesperson.
“Border Force has already recruited a Readiness Task Force to provide operational resilience to the front line and allow existing staff to undertake EU exit related training.
“In addition, Border Force is recruiting c. 600 additional Border Force officers to respond to the new requirements it will face as a result of EU Exit.
“Border Force will always ensure it has the necessary resources to maintain security and support flows at the border, and we are developing detailed contingency plans that might be necessary for Border Force in the event of a no deal outcome.”
Up to 2,000 staff needed for no-deal
Brexit has placed a huge strain on the Home Office, which is responsible for managing borders as well as implementing the government’s immigration policy and granting residency to over 3 million EU nationals.
Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd said in March that 1,000 extra officials would be in place by the end of the scheduled transition period in December 2020 to cope with changes to border policy.
But those staff would not be in place if the UK failed to secure a transition period and left without a deal.
The National Audit Office warned in October that the Border Force risked being significantly underprepared for a no-deal outcome, with critical systems needing to be replaced and significant numbers of staff needing to be hired, warning that organised criminals would be “quick to exploit any perceived weaknesses or gaps” in the border enforcement regime.
The Border Force could require an additional 2,000 officials in the event of no-deal, according to the NAO’s report of the department’s own estimates, but a reduced compliance regime would mean those staffing levels would not be operationally necessary immediately after the UK left the EU.
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