United Kingdom: UK Immigration and borders watchdog sacked for leaking critical reports

Source: bbc.com

Published: 21 February 2024

Home Secretary James Cleverly has sacked the government’s immigration watchdog after details of critical reports appeared in newspapers.

The Home Office said David Neal had “breached the terms” of his role and leaked confidential information.

Mr Neal was quoted in The Daily Mail about security checks on private jets.

Meanwhile, sources close to him said he was responsible for details of another unpublished report about visas for care workers appearing in The Times.

The comments made by Mr Neal in the Mail triggered an urgent question in Parliament on Tuesday, with immigration minister Tom Pursglove telling the Commons the Home Office “categorically” rejected claims that hundreds of high-risk flights had landed in the UK without security checks.

Mr Neal told the paper he had seen Home Office data suggesting that 21% of private jets classified as high risk, which came into London City Airport, were inspected by immigration officials last year.

“This is a scandal, and incredibly dangerous for this country’s border security”, he was quoted as saying.

But Mr Pursglove said UK Border Force performed checks on “100% of scheduled passengers arriving in the UK and risk-based intelligence-led checks on general aviation”.

He added that an issue with the data meant some flights had been classified as high-risk when they should have been low-risk.

He described it as “deeply disturbing that information which has no basis in fact was leaked by the independent chief inspector to a national newspaper before the Home Office had the chance to respond”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have terminated the appointment of David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICBI), after he breached the terms of appointment and lost the confidence of the home secretary.

“The planned recruitment process for the next ICBI is in progress.”

Mr Neal, whose tenure was due to end on 21 March, told the Times on Tuesday that he had not made the decision to speak to the media “lightly”. He added: “But I’ve been forced into this because my reports aren’t being published.”

“I’ve spent all my working life protecting this country, I’ve identified a security failing and I’ve brought it back to the Home Office,” he is quoted as saying.

“There’s a strong public interest here and that’s why I’ve done what I’ve done. The border is there to keep us safe, it’s critical that there are clear auditable risk decisions made to protect every one of us in the country.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, who tabled the question, said this was an example of “total Tory chaos on borders and immigration”.

“A series of Conservative home secretaries have sought to bury uncomfortable truths revealed by the chief inspector about our broken borders, and shockingly they are still sitting on 15 unpublished reports – stretching back to April last year,” she said.

Ms Cooper also called on Mr Cleverly to “publish those reports in full”.

The government website lists 14 ICIBI inspection reports that are awaiting publication. Ms Cooper’s office is understood to be including the inspector’s annual report in the total.

The Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael also called for the reports to be published “without delay”.

“This is a desperate move from a Conservative government terrified of proper scrutiny of their record of failure on borders and immigration,” he added.

Mr Neal is a former army officer who commanded a brigade of the Royal Military Police.

The report about the social care system – details of which appeared in the Times – is understood to reflect Mr Neal’s concern about the Home Office’s oversight of compliance with the immigration rules by social care employers.

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