Ministers blamed for encouraging staff to take risks over immigration
09 November 2009: Even as Home Secretary Alan Johnson called for `rational debate’ on immigration issue, the ministers were blamed for inviting migrants into the country without considering security risk they might pose.
It was even alleged Labour’s open-door immigration policy, in favour of taking “risks” while processing migrant applications, could have let in even the Taliban.
According to the documents released under Freedom of Information rules, a senior official said Home Office staff were to be ‘encouraged to take risks’ over immigration.
The staff was told to be biased in favour of allowing immigrants into the country, rather than refusing visas or work permits. Rather, staff was told to make minimal checks on the newcomers.
The allegations follows publication of memos between the then Home Office civil servant in charge of immigration policy Sir Bill Jeffrey, and then immigration minister Beverley Hughes, in 2003.
The memos came out in the open as the Home Office made attempts to clear a backlog of 45,000 applications for visas, work permits and permits for extended stays in Britain.
It transpires during the process as many as 337,000 applications were fast-tracked under the code name Brace.
Sir Bill’s memo to Hughes was written after a public outcry that followed the admission to Britain of more than 20 members of the Taliban, who had left Afghanistan to escape American forces.
Now senior civil servant at the Ministry of Defence, Sir Bill said in the memo: ‘We are still in a situation where some risks have to be taken, and staff should feel that if they are encouraged to take risks they will be supported when something major goes wrong.’
Hughes reply was that the Taliban decision was unjustified. Her office said while staff ‘have to take some risks, this was a decision that flew in the face of common sense’.
Reacting to the developments, the Tories described the Government’s handling of migration issue as ‘disgraceful’. The Tories also condemned attempts to prevent the release of the documents.
Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said this was fast turning into a major political scandal. To most people, the idea the Government ministers and officials could take a high-risk approach to handling immigration applications would be beyond belief, he said.
Grayling added it was nothing short of disgraceful to then try to cover up their actions. Immigration issue would always be something which should be treated carefully and sensitively. But more and more evidence was emerging the Government has abused the system apparently for party political purposes.
The Home Office, on the other hand, said there was never an ‘open door policy’; and the allegations were ‘seriously misleading’.