The Mail on Sunday has today published a front-page story (‘The UK Border Farce’, 31 December 2017) claiming that unpaid volunteers are set to become the “first line of defence against terrorists, people smugglers and organised crime gangs at hundreds of vulnerable air and sea ports”.
This is an incorrect and misleading report about a pilot upon which no decision has yet been made.
The article significantly overstates the extent to which this outline proposal has been progressed, misrepresents the role which volunteers would potentially fulfil and does not reflect the safeguards, training and rigorous selection procedures which would be adopted if the proposal were to be taken forward.
The Home Office is in the process of taking advice from other law enforcement bodies such as police forces, which have successfully deployed well-trained, high calibre Special Constables for many years, to examine whether a Special Volunteer force within Border Force would provide benefits and bolster existing activity.
It is misleading to say volunteers would ever represent the “first line of defence” - much of the work Border Force does is to identify and address threats before they can reach the UK. It is also incorrect to imply that there are no border checks at marinas and small airports, where deployment is intelligence-led and based on analysis of risk.
Border Force uses a combination of highly skilled expert officers, technology, data and intelligence to protect the border. It works jointly with partner agencies to keep the UK's coastline secure, using its own vessels, radar, intelligence, teams on shore and collaboration with international partners.
If a pilot volunteer scheme were to be taken forward, it would be subject to rigorous selection procedures, with candidates undergoing initial security clearance checks in line with full-time Border Force employees, coupled with comprehensive training and mentoring.
We are clear that volunteers would only ever be used to supplement existing Border Force activity and not as a replacement for permanent officers, thereby adding to Border Force’s capacity to conduct checks and keep the country safe.
We are currently recruiting an additional 300 permanent Border Force officers in preparation for any future arrangements required for EU exit at the border.
The full statement that was issued to the Mail on Sunday in advance of the article being published, and which makes clear that this is a proposal at the stage of initial consideration, is below.
A Home Office spokesman said:
“We’re committed to ensuring that Border Force has the resources it needs to keep the UK safe and we will never compromise the security of our borders. We use a mix of expert officers, technology, data and intelligence to keep the border secure. Recent successes speak for themselves — such as seizing a record amount of cocaine last year and stopping tens of thousands of illegal attempts to enter the country.
“Border Force is currently considering the potential benefits of a Border Force Special Volunteer force, and is in discussions with other law enforcement agencies such as local police to understand how they use volunteers in addition to their existing workforce.
“Immigration Enforcement has not piloted the use of volunteers, nor are there plans to introduce Immigration Enforcement volunteers.”
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