Notes From the Margins…

Bordergate: Act II

  • November 16, 2011
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The plot thickens regarding the ‘Bordergate’ scandal.  Yesterday the outgoing chief of the UK Border Agency Brodie Clark and UKBA’s new executive director Rob Whiteman gave what were essentially incompatible versions of the same events to parliament.

Clark denied suggestions that he was a ‘rogue officer’ and insisted that last summer’s relaxed border checks had Home Office authorisation.   He also pointed out what congestion at ports and airports really means ie. that on fifty-seven occasions planes were unable to land because of the long queues at airports.

This is somewhat different from Melanie Phillips’ shrill  indictment of the British political class last week, in which she suggest that the country’s civil servants were so haplessly decadent that they were prepared to sacrifice Britain’s security and cultural identity ‘ because a few airline passengers are moaning about delays at passport control.

Phillips and the Daily Mail are peering at the world through a very narrow keyhole and they are not much interested in the broader picture.  But Clark’s account is also contradicted by Whiteman,  who told MPs that ministers were not aware that fingerprint checks had been waived to the extent that they had been, and accused Clark of being ‘disingenuous’ in his account of events.

Whiteman and Clark cannot both be right, and I suspect that the former is covering up for the Home Secretary and that Clark has been made a scapegoat.  The Daily Mail has once again attempted to come to May’s rescue today, as it did during her ‘cat’ faux pas at the Tory Party Conference, with a leaked internal report suggesting that Clark exceeded his authority.

We’ll see how all this plays out.  Ultimately of course,  the ‘scandal’ is a non-event.  In any normal country no one would have batted an eyelid at UKBA’s decision to relieve congestion at ports and airports for safety reasons by waiving fingerprint checks.   But this is not a normal country.

The scandal has only become a scandal because of  a typically dishonest, xenophobic and populist  offensive by the rightwing press which claims, as the Daily Mail put it today with characteristic restraint ‘ that the ‘civil service threw open Britain’s borders’ this summer and let in hordes of criminals and terrorists.

Security is only a minor concern in a campaign whose real aim is to whip up anti-immigrant hatred and paranoia by painting the grimmest possible picture of administrative chaos at ‘our’ borders.

That is the real scandal, and until British politicians find the courage to face down such campaigns instead of pandering to them and attempting to profit from them politically,  it won’t be the last.


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  1. Tom

    28th Nov 2011 - 1:14 pm

    Immigration has always been a thorny issue with the Daily Mail and Melanie Phillips in particular, often letting facts erode in the vastness of their hysterical warnings of dire happenings. However, there are some blatant problems with our immigration policies but it is usually set against those who legally attempt to settle in the UK but benefitting those who arrive here illegally.

    • Matt

      28th Nov 2011 - 1:44 pm

      I don’t see how those arriving ‘illegally’ benefit from these problems Tom. Contrary to popular belief, illegality is not a privilege and often means a difficult and dangerous journey, followed by months or even years in badly-paid work without no employment rights or protection – or with no work at all. And all the time the possibility of arrest and deportation. Not something that most people would aspire to if they could avoid it, I would have thought.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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