What makes UK Borders safe?
We still don't know for sure exactly who (Theresa May? Brodie Clark?) authorised what discretionary relaxation in which of the immigration procedures at UK Borders, and with what effect, and applying to whom. But the tub thumping of the likes of Yvette Cooper -- with the scarcely veiled implication that every terrorist, or at least illegal work-seeker, in the world could have used the opportunity to walk into the country unchallenged -- is certainly premature, if not ludicrous. (If we didn't know about the changes, then presumably those undesirable foreigners didn't either.)
But the bigger question is how, in practice, do we make the country's borders as safe as we want them to be. That may not in all circumstances be by fulfilling to the letter the computer checks on each person -- as are usually required. Whatever the faulty procedures, it could have been a good judgement call (on the part of May, I find myself surprised to say, or Clark) to be a bit more selective, and to use some sensible discretion.
Let's remember, for a start, that in the Schengen Area of Europe largely doesn't require that people show passports to cross the borders of individual countries. The Schengen Area doesn't only include EU countries, but Iceland and Norway too among others. So relaxing some checks on some people from there, especially young children travelling with their families, is hardly a remarkable step to take, especially when you have an arrivals hall heaving with cross travellers.
I haven't yet seen any clear explanation of "travellers from the EU" that May readily concedes she had had in mind for relaxation...does it mean the EU in the literal, narrow sense, or does it mean the EU AND the other group of countries from the EEA and Schengen, that now walk through the "Europe" line at our airports? I hope it means the latter -- and that we are not all getting our knickers in a twist about some three year olds from Iceland.
But let's suppose that what we are worried about are the "REAL" foreigners... the Americans, Australians, Egyptians and Somalians, etc etc. who might have been let in with inadequate checks.
Some really damaging stuff may be about to come out, but I haven't seen anything yet that suggests any serious dereliction of duty happened.
Just think of a packed arrivals hall, where tired passengers are queuing for 2 or 3 hours, sometimes more. I've been in a few of these recently and it is mayhem. People are worried abut missing onward flights and trying to jump the queue, and pleading with the officials to take them first. The elderly are barely able to go on standing (ever thought of a chair or two in an arrivals hall?), and young children are completely losing it and screaming lustily -- all over the place. We've heard this morning that things in the summer can get so bad in the UK that the police have to be brought in.
Now, presumably, one thing that makes our borders safe is that the immigration staff can concentrate on their jobs. I don't know what it that has to be checked between the computer chip and the person/paper passport -- but I am sure that it can't be easy to do that conscientiously when you are working in the middle of pandemonium. It seems to me to be highly likely that not biometrically checking (say) New Zealand children travelling with Mum and Dad helps, rather than hinders, the process overall. And maybe, experienced immigration officers can recognise some other groups which can be safely allowed in without all the computer checks, while spending the proper time on the others.
One thing is for sure, a riot in the hall does not lead to safe immigration procedures.
So short term, what was done may well have been sensible. Let's wait and find out more.
In the long term, we need to think a bit harder. Perhaps it woud be a good idea to join Schengen; we're always told that the fact that we have no land borders makes that inappropriate -- but Iceland seems to be managing.
And I would like to know more about how effective the computer technology really is. Each time I go to the USA and have my prints taken, my iris photographed, my passport swiped.. and I say, in response, to the routine question "I am here to give a lecture at the University of....".. I wonder how border safety is being enhanced.
Perhaps universal biometric checks aren't the best answer.