The Conservatives would create Britain’s first “border police” force to protect the UK against illegal immigration, Michael Howard announced today, as the party turned to its election “trump card” in a bid to move on from the Howard Flight affair.
At a pre-election press conference, Mr Howard said the new force would bring together officers currently working at ports and airports from customs, Special Branch and immigration.
“We will have one face at the border. One police force. With one chief constable. With just one job: securing Britain’s borders,” he said.
In a recent Guardian poll, immigration and asylum emerged as the one policy area where the Tories lead Labour, by around 11% of those “likely to vote”.
In a separate news conference today, on crime, law and order, the Liberal Democrats also pledged to create a specially dedicated border force. Party leader Charles Kennedy said it would strengthen the fight against terrorism, drugs, organised crime and people smuggling.
Mr Howard’s decision to re-employ his party’s strongest card came after an Easter weekend nightmare for the Tories. The party’s deputy chairman, the Arundel and South Downs MP Howard Flight, was sacked on Friday from both positions over taped remarks at a party function. Mr Flight had said the Tories’ proposed £35bn of efficiency savings and cuts would only “be the start”.
At a press conference yesterday, the launch of Tory policy on childcare was drowned out in the row, and today Mr Howard was again forced to answer questions about Mr Flight.
Mr Howard insisted he had the power to deselect Mr Flight, saying: “We have to act in accordance with the rules and constitution and the constitution is very clear.
“We will not say one thing in private and another in public.”
However, Mr Howard said other frontbenchers at the meeting when Mr Flight made his comment would not face action because “they did not make the remarks”.
Turning to his new Border Police Control Force , he said: “The clearest line of accountability in any organisation is to a single individual: a person who sits behind a desk with a sign that says ‘I’m responsible—the buck stops here.’
“Britain is an island nation. We can control our borders. But it will only happen if we have a government with the determination to act.”
The force would replace the 7,400 people, ranging from ports police to immigration officers, currently involved in screening people coming in to Britain.
Its officers would not be drawn from the 40,000 extra police the Conservatives are promising if elected in May, aides said.
Existing border controls costs £469m and the new force would cost several “tens of millions” of pounds more, said the shadow home secretary, David Davis.
“Having looked at the experience from other countries, we believe the time has now come to establish a British Border Control Police—whose sole job will be to secure Britain’s borders,” he told the Westminster press conference.
“The priorities of the British Border Control Police will be to defer immigration and fight terrorism and international crime.”
Mr Davis said the new Metropolitan police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, supported the move.
Mr Davis outlined a range of other measures aimed at preventing abuses. Many of the measures had already been announced by the Tories.
Only 11 of Britain’s 35 main ports currently have round-the-clock security, but Tories would introduce 24-hour surveillance at them all.
Biometric visas would be extended to all non-EU countries that are sources of illegal immigrants.
Families would be forced to post bonds if there was a chance that someone visiting the country might try to break the rules and stay on.
Firms would also have to stump up six months’ salary as a security if they wanted to bring someone in to work. The money would be repayable once the worker departed.
A Tory government would withdraw from the 1951 Refugee Convention to speed up processing and deportation of failed asylum seekers.
The Proceeds of Crime Act would also be used to seize profits from anyone employing illegal labour. “These measures will help both to clamp down on and discourage illegal immigration,” Mr Davis said.