Philip Johnston, Telegraph (London), June 21, 2007
Britain is ready to exchange information about immigrants and failed asylum seekers with the United States in an attempt to tighten transatlantic security, John Reid said yesterday.
On a visit to New York, the Home Secretary called for shared access to files on immigration offenders and other “travellers of interest”.
It would be the first time the British authorities have shared such information outside the European Union.
Mr Reid, who will put the plan to Michael Chertoff, the US homeland security chief, in Washington this week, said: “The only way to tackle these issues is through countries working together.
“Every issue we face, whether it involves immigration, identity or counter-terrorism, has international relationships at its very core.
“We cannot protect Britain’s borders by operating in a bubble.”
The offer will be seen as a bid to forestall US attempts to impose travel restrictions on 800,000 British citizens of Pakistani origin.
Mr Chertoff is reported to have told the Government that British Pakistanis should apply for a visa before travelling to the United States. However, British officials said they would resist the plan, which was denounced as discriminatory.
Mr Reid’s idea appears to be a compromise which may satisfy the US authorities that enough information is being made available. A spokesman for the Home Office said: “The issues that we face on immigration are very similar.
“We should work together to tackle them, and one of the ways to do that would be exchanging immigration data. It would also fit in with things like tackling terrorism, organised crime and trafficking.”
The move came as Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, set out a new strategy to promote Britain as a destination for immigrants.
Mr Byrne said Britain could not lose out in attracting overseas skills. “We must make sure that those people with the right skills are aware of the opportunities in the UK and that it is easy for them to take advantage of them,” his strategy document said.
It said Britain would be “promoted as a destination with priority countries and specific audiences we want to attract”. This would include “smoothing the passage” of legitimate travellers and marketing the country to prospective migrants.
Mr Byrne yesterday signed a treaty with his French counterpart to allow French immigration officers to work at the new Eurostar terminal at St Pancras in London.
Damien Green, the Conservative immigration spokesman, said: “While we would have no problems in principle about sharing information with the United States we hope that when ministers met their French counterparts they sought to extract an agreement that Sangatte II would not be built.
“This would demonstrate some real desire to protect our borders rather than just the usual rhetoric we have come to expect from this Government.”
The refugee centre in the French village of Sangatte was used as base for attempts to enter Britain illegally through the Channel Tunnel.