Labour has urged the government to drop “dangerous cuts” to the Border Force. Andy Burnham, Shadow Home Secretary told the BBC there “couldn’t be a more serious time” to be strengthening borders, after the Brussels attacks. But he quoted whistleblowers as saying the Border Force had been told to expect cuts of 6% in both the next financial year and the one after.
The Home Office said funding was being finalised and “all necessary measures” would be taken to secure UK borders. In a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, Mr Burnham said making savings now would be a “very serious mistake”.
The government said it was deploying more Border Force staff to strengthen checks at UK entry points. But Mr Burnham accused the home secretary of “going to great lengths” to conceal further cuts planned for the agency.
He said it was “highly unusual and should be challenged” for ministers not to have released the Border Force budget with the start of the new financial year only a few days away. He said the force had “already experienced consecutive years of cuts” and was “stretched to the limit”.
“The public has a right to know about the government’s plans for the UK border and that is why I call on them to publish these figures without delay and to drop these damaging cuts,” he added.
The Home Office said extra money for the force had been promised in the chancellor’s Budget this month. A spokesman said the government had “invested tens of millions of pounds to bolster security at ports in northern France” and would take “all the necessary measures” to maintain the security of the UK’s borders.
Mr Burnham said the funding promised in the Budget was for customs activities of the Border Force, to counter smuggling, not for immigration staff. He called on the government to strengthen the UK’s sea, rail and air borders with Belgium, saying British border officials should be deployed to work alongside local staff in Belgian ports, as already happens in Calais.
The Home Office said the Border Force “has the ability to redeploy resources on a national basis, and can allocate funding to address specific pressures when necessary.
“This includes the additional £17m being invested during the next financial year to ease migrant pressures in the Calais region and further strengthen the UK border.” It said it was “not uncommon” for the force’s budget to be finalised this close to the financial year and the home secretary would respond to Mr Burnham’s letter “in due course”.