Airports are expected to draft in the military to help man border controls during this week’s country-wide public sector strike. Soldiers from 3rd Battalion Military Intelligence in London have been told to report for duty on Sunday night.
They will be sent for a crash course on Monday and Tuesday in how to keep Britain’s borders safe, and 130 police officers have apparently been flown into London for the emergency training.
Troops are apparently on the alert and ready to step in to prevent immigration chaos as the country faces the biggest outbreak of industrial action since the 1979 Winter of Discontent.
Soldiers in London are being guided to stand in for staff at airports and ports while military police could be forced to fly back from Germany.
The walkout will cause commotion for millions of people, with nine out of ten schools closing, thousands of NHS operations cancelled, bin collections stopped, and international travellers trapped.
The extra staff is expected to be needed at Britain’s busiest airports, with Heathrow planning to fly planes half full, or at ports such as Dover, where ferry passengers will be worst affected.
An Army source told the Sunday Mirror: ‘You have to wonder whether this is a good use of our guys who are facing cuts and redundancies themselves. We are not really sure that we will be providing the right cover.’
Immigration Minister Damian Green admitted that soldiers could replace striking employees if not enough civil servants volunteer, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
He warned public sector workers that the country must not be allowed to stop working, with ministers presuming the action to cost the country around £500million.
Asked directly if soldiers could be called in, the Sunday Telegraph quoted him as saying: ‘It is very important, as a trading nation, that we remain open for business.’
‘We are finding volunteers from all over Whitehall to come in and be trained so that they can be safe in manning the borders and keeping our borders safe and secure on Wednesday – which is the main priority – at the same time as allowing travellers and airlines to go about their normal business.
Around 160 police are seconded to the UK Border Agency to investigate immigration crimes and most of these officers will be manning borders on the day of the strike, said the Sunday Mirror.
They will also be selecting travellers to ensure that they are not on the Home Office’s warning list of dangerous and undesirable visitors.
In a letter to forces, added the newspaper, police migration chief Olivia Pinkney said: ‘The UK Border Agency plans to train approximately 120 to 130 officers to operate the immigration controls at the border – EU and non-EU controls.
‘In particular the focus will be on criminality and counter-terrorist matters.’
The action will also cause misery for working parents who will have to make emergency childcare arrangements.
All three major teaching unions – the NUT, NASUWT and ATL – have voted to walk out. Of the schools likely to remain fully open, most will be free schools and academies. Many NHS trusts are drawing up contingency plans to treat only the most seriously ill patients.
Departments such as A&E, maternity, cancer care and those providing dialysis are expected to run as normal, but thousands of radiographers, pathologists, cleaners and porters are likely to strike.
The strikes come as it was today revealed that thousands of retired senior public sector workers receive pensions of more than £50,000 a year