Tory MP demands shake-up of Border Force over fears millions of holidays could be scuppered


Tory MPs have today turned on Border Force amid fears popular holiday islands in Europe will remain on the amber list after June 3.

Henry Smith, whose constituency includes Gatwick, and former Brexit minister Steve Baker both took swipes at the agency after it emerged holidays face being scuppered because staff cannot cope with an influx of travellers.

Mr Smith said it was ‘completely unacceptable’ and said it was time the officials ‘stepped up and did their job properly’.

Mr Baker said Britain needs a ‘scaled up’ Border Force the ‘public deserve’ and called for a cross-government Minister of State for the Border.

Meanwhile Labour MP Ian Mearns pinned the blame on the government, saying it is an ‘utter failure to properly plan to meet the needs of the aspirational datelines for the reopening of the economy’.

Popular islands in Europe including the Balearics, Ibiza and Mallorca may stay on the amber list after June 3 if officials are unable to process the incoming passengers.

Though some island destinations – such as Malta and some Greek and Caribbean islands – are expected to be added to the green list, the Spanish islands face being left off the list due to fears over high infection rates.

With holiday hotspots possibly remaining on the amber list, which means people have to quarantine at home upon arrival, millions of trips overseas this summer could be scuppered.

Government insiders said there were particular concerns over the Balearics because of the higher rate of traffic it has with the mainland compared with other islands.

If left on the green list, thousands more travellers would likely fly to the islands – causing stretched Border Force officials to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of UK arrivals.

Passengers stand in a queue to the British Airways check-in desks in the departures area of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London

Government insiders told the paper that there were particular concerns over the Balearics because of the higher rate of traffic it has with the mainland compared with other islands

Government insiders told the paper that there were particular concerns over the Balearics because of the higher rate of traffic it has with the mainland compared with other islands

Henry Smith (pictured), whose constituency includes Gatwick, and former Brexit minister Steve Baker both took swipes at the agency after it emerged holidays face being scuppered because staff cannot cope with an influx of travellers

Steve Baker (pictured), a former Brexit minister, said the public deserve a ramped up version of the agency as millions of holidays face being scuppered because staff cannot cope with an influx of travellers

Henry Smith (left), whose constituency includes Gatwick, and former Brexit minister Steve Baker (right) both took swipes at the agency after it emerged holidays face being scuppered because staff cannot cope with an influx of travellers 

Mr Smith told MailOnline: ‘I think it’s completely unacceptable that an excuse to keep a country on the amber travel list simply because Border Force don’t feel they can properly carry out checks when people enter the UK.

‘All along this pandemic we’ve rightly been told that we need to be led by the scientific evidence and quite frankly Border Force should be staffing desks at arrival airports across the UK to full capacity.

‘It’s not like any Border Force numbers have been reduced during the pandemic and it’s time they stepped up and did their job properly to keep our border safe and secure but also to facilitate people’s right to travel where it’s safe to do so.’

Mr Baker said: ‘The public deserve to have Border Force scaled up. But the reason our border is a mess is because we lack a cross-government Minister of State for the Border. I nominate Marcus Fysh MP.’

And Mr Mearns, who is vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Business Travel, added: ‘This looks, yet again, like a story about the Government’s complete and utter failure to properly plan to meet the needs of the aspirational datelines for the reopening of the economy and removal of social controls on the pandemic.

‘Government Ministers repeatedly refer to their plans, but an aspiration is not a plan. They have been heavy on asserting their aspirations but very poor at actual planning and then delivery. This is a problem that we have witnessed repeatedly and across Government.

‘Additionally I would urge caution on the people of the country! We all want to see a return to some level of the freedoms that we have had to sacrifice.

‘But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should and a bit of self control will hugely increase the possibility of a long term and sustained return to life as we would want to see it.’

A source also told the Times: ‘The Balearics are hugely popular and the government is worried about opening up too quickly. Opening up to the Balearics would mean a huge increase in Brits leaving the UK. 

‘There are fears that opening up to hugely popular destinations like the Balearics would overwhelm Border Force while the 100 per cent passenger location form checks remain in place. 

‘So while opening up the Balearics would be a big enough increase to help out the airlines, it would also be a big enough change to cause a really big problem at the border.’

Border Force officials hit back at the allegations last night, insisting they were working at full capacity within a set of tight constraints imposed on them by the Government.

The Home Office said pressure on the agency was not a factor in deciding whether to add a country to the green list and said the force was mobilising extra staff to help to minimise queuing times at passport control.

But the Immigration Services Union said overcrowding was being exacerbated due to many airports – including Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester – only operating one terminal. Heathrow has two of its five shut.   

MailOnline understands the long delays are being caused by a perfect storm of problems with the Home Office accused of using a ‘rigid and inflexible’ bubble system for staff meaning those not on the rota for passport control cannot be moved in to ease pressure at peak times, despite social distancing and regular sanitising.

Huge queues are being made worse because electronic-gates cannot be used because the Government is yet to fully digitise the ‘passenger locator forms’, which travellers must fill in before heading to the UK.

Unions claim Heathrow could use all passport control desks if they had installed screens surrounding each booth, rather than the front-facing ones they chose.

But they also blame passengers for failing to fill in the right forms with birder staff they are seeing large numbers of people using fake covid test certificates that are not properly checked by airlines. 

Border Force officials who are sat checking passports are being forced to work in ‘social bubbles’ of four spread out across the enormous complex to reduce the risk of spreading different strains of coronavirus.

They cannot be moved from their tasks to alleviate pressure at passport control if they are not already working in the arrivals hall that day. 

Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, told MailOnline that in pre-Covid times the average time a passenger spent at a passport control desk was around two minutes.

This is four minutes now if a passenger’s documents are all in order, but ‘at least’ 40 if there is an issue, she said. 

She said: ‘The delays are not caused by a lack of staff. If you look at it, we can now only man every other desk for cCvid reasons.

‘If your bubble is assigned to admin tasks for the day, ordinarily we would hoik them out, but we can’t do that. It makes it look like we are understaffed, when in fact we have the maximum number of people working we can’. 

She said Heathrow Terminal has 40 passport control desks, but because they only have front screens, the number of desks is halved, creating delays, being added to because officers have to check 100 per cent of forms – passports, passenger locator forms and negative Covid test results – on all arrivals, and many are not complying.

Those who attempt to evade quarantine or testing by providing false information face a fine of up to £10,000, and up to 10 years in prison, while those who do not book a hotel place before arriving in England face a £4,000 fine. 

Ms Moreton said: The cause of the delays is because people are not complying. We are seeing a lot of people saying was ‘nobody told them’ or ‘it doesn’t apply to me’.  

She added: ‘If you arrived in pre-Covid times it would be two minutes at the desk usually, and is four minutes now if the documents are correct.

‘But if they don’t have everything then you’re in trouble. Just to book the passenger Covid tests, that drives it to 40 minutes at least, if not much longer. You would have queues, but you’d have them much shorter.

‘It is not caused by a lack of staff. If you look at it, we only man every other desk for covid reasons. If your bubble is assigned to admin, ordinarily we would hoik them out, but we can’t do that to keep thinks covid safe.

Spain's tourism minister said he hopes some of the country will make it onto the UK's green list. Spanish authorities are allowing Brits to travel into the country without quarantining but UK rules mean people have to self-isolate when they return and the Government is advising against travelling there (Pictured: Women on a beach in Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol)

Spain’s tourism minister said he hopes some of the country will make it onto the UK’s green list. Spanish authorities are allowing Brits to travel into the country without quarantining but UK rules mean people have to self-isolate when they return and the Government is advising against travelling there (Pictured: Women on a beach in Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol)

It comes as Britain on Friday recorded more than 4,000 daily cases for the first time since April

It comes as Britain on Friday recorded more than 4,000 daily cases for the first time since April

‘Heathrow chose to not to put wraparound screens – that means you could man every desk. The front ones are not really as effective, passengers end up leaning around it.

‘If they haven’t booked their home tests, you have to get off the desk, go into the back office and book them. They’re all there and doing something, but because they have to walk away it looks like they’re not all manned’. 

She added: ‘The Government can choose two routes. Either remove the requirement for 100 per cent checks, with all the attendant risk to national Covid security. Or compel carriers to ensure that no one arrives in the UK without having complied with the relevant requirements.’ 

Experts Robert Boyle, a former BA strategist, and Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, both agreed it was unlikely Spain, Greece, Italy and France will make the green list.

Government working ‘to scrap social distancing but keep facemasks and work from home guidance’ under plans to push ahead with June 21 Freedom Day amid concerns over Indian Covid variant 

Ministers are working to scrap social distancing but keep face masks and work from home guidance in place after the June 21 ‘Freedom Day’ amid concerns over the spread of the Indian variant.

The Treasury is said to be prioritising the end of the ‘one metre plus’ rule and the ‘rule of six’ indoors, in a bid to kickstart the British economy which has been battered by successive lockdowns since March last year.

Though the Government wants to end restrictions on mass gatherings to allow festivals, concerts and sporting events to go ahead, ministers are said to be worried that the variant could jeopardise the roadmap and are discussing contingency plans that would mean only a partial end to shutdown.

It comes as Britain on Friday recorded more than 4,000 daily cases for the first time since April, and as the R value – which measures the average number of people each infected person will pass the virus on to – moved above 1 for the first time since January, as the second wave ripped through the country.

A Treasury source told the Times that the Government is prepared for the worst-case scenario that the Indian variant led to a surge in hospital cases, pointing to the fact that the furlough scheme continues until September.

But in an attempt to reduce the spread of the virus, face coverings could still be required on public transport and in indoor public spaces – while guidance stating people must work from home if they can may also stay in place.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose administration has come under intense scrutiny this week after former No10 aide Dominic Cummings made a series of allegations during a seven-hour evidence session with MPs, is expected to make a decision on which curbs can be relaxed in the next two weeks.

Cautious scientists have called for No10 to delay the final step on the roadmap back to normality for at least two months, giving the NHS more time to fully vaccinate millions more adults.

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said there was ‘a good argument for caution until such time as we’ve got a much higher proportion of the population double-vaccinated’.

Spain’s 14-day average infection rate is currently around 139.71 per 100,000 of the population, Italy’s 135.77 and Greece’s 259.36. By contrast, Portugal’s is 55.60 and was around 49 when it made the green list. Vaccination rates in Spain, Italy and Greece also lag behind the UK’s.

However, Mr Boyle and Mr Charles identified Malta, Finland and some Spanish islands as strong candidates for the green list. Mr Boyle also tipped some Greek islands while Mr Charles said a clutch of Caribbean islands are in contention.

Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2.com, said: ‘There is a scientific case and a data-led case for more destinations to be put on the green list.’

Jonathan Hinkles, chief executive of Loganair, said: ‘Public health is the priority, that has to rank above economics health, but we believe those objects can be safely achieved by putting more countries onto the green list.’

It came as a row broke out after Ireland announced it will maintain 14-day quarantine measures for British travellers over fears about the Indian variant. 

But Ireland will drop the 14-day quarantine restrictions for the rest of the European Union. France, Germany and Austria have all imposed tougher entry restrictions or banned Britons travelling for non-essential reasons from entering.

Irish budget carrier Ryanair called the claims about the spread of the Indian variant being of concern to the Irish government, and the reason for continued restrictions, as ‘bogus’.

Under current rules, Britons can travel restriction-free to Northern Ireland, and cross the border into the Republic of Ireland. But they face 14 days in quarantine if they travel directly by plane or ferry. 

Travel chiefs are pushing for holidays abroad to get back to normal as soon as they can after airlines suffered crippling financial losses last year.

EasyJet boss John Lundgren said: ‘You have a number of countries in Europe that are now on the amber list that should go into the green list.’

Ministers committed to regular three-weekly reviews of the traffic light list and will do their first re-assessment on June 3, the Independent reported, with changes starting a week later.

Top candidates for the green light are expected to be Malta; the Balearics which include Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentara; Tenerife and Greek islands such as Rhodes, Kos, Zante and Santorini. 

Spain’s tourism minister, Fernando Valdes, said he hoped at least parts of the country would be put onto Britain’s green list.

The country has already opened its doors to people from the UK, but travellers would have to quarantine for nearly two weeks when they got home from their holiday.

In most places on the green list already – particularly Australia and New Zealand – travel home to Britain is fine but the foreign governments won’t let Brits in.

The fast-spreading Indian variant is now dominating in Britain and many countries are only just coming out the other side of the Kent strain taking over, meaning they will be wary about importing cases from the UK.

Mr Valdes said: ‘With our notification rates which are pretty low and by the same notification range of the UK, so I have to suspect that on the next review that the UK Government can provide… Spain is going to change on its notification.’

Crowds were pictured flocking to airports for the first time in months when flying abroad became legal again in May, but most are holding off on holidays.

Top scientists have said they would avoid international travel and government ministers have discouraged it, urging people to make plans at home instead or, if they do want to go abroad, to stick to green list nations.       

On Monday Business Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said on Times Radio: ‘The reality is, at the moment, amber countries are still not meeting the criteria for our scientists to say that they should be green.

‘So the recommendation remains ‘don’t go unless you have to’, and remember that, if you do go, you will have to quarantine for 10 days and that will be monitored.’  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk