Government slammed over ‘ridiculous’ plan to use Dad’s Army volunteers on borders

PUBLISHED: 12:07 31 December 2017 | UPDATED: 12:07 31 December 2017

Dad's Army. Photograph: BBC

Dad's Army. Photograph: BBC

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The government has been criticised for plans which could involve volunteers patrolling borders at air and sea ports.

The Home Office confirmed that proposals for “Border Force Special Volunteers” at small air and sea ports were being discussed.

They would be used to bolster Border Force staffing levels, in a similar vein to police community support officers.

However an MP whose constituency covers one of Britain’s largest ports warned against creating a “Dad’s Army-type set-up”, due to the complexities of border security.

The Border Force carries out immigration and customs controls for people and goods entering the UK, and reports in the past have raised concerns over “poor” coverage of dozens of minor harbours and landing places.

A Home Office spokesman said: “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.”

An inspection by the department published earlier this year of 62 ports, wharves, marinas and jetties on the east coast that were normally unmanned found Border Force officers had not been to 27 of the sites during the 15 months from April 2015 to June 2016.

The assessment said one of the risks of long periods of non-attendance by Border Force at some locations is “there is no visible deterrent to anyone prepared to risk using these spots to land illegal migrants or contraband”.

In a separate report, former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation David Anderson QC also flagged up coverage of smaller south and east coast ports, marinas and landing places, saying it is “conceivable” they might be an option for returning foreign fighters or other terrorists.

The Home Office said it uses a mix of expert officers, technology, data and intelligence to keep UK borders secure and has stopped tens of thousands of illegal attempts to enter the country.

A spokesman said volunteers would not be used by Immigration Enforcement, but added: “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.”

Dover MP Charlie Elphicke told the Mail on Sunday: “Border security is a skilled job, which takes many years of training. I would urge great caution before seeking to adopt a model like that used by the police, with special constables. We can’t have a Dad’s Army-type of set-up.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents Border Force staff, warned that the Government was “risking this country’s security on the cheap” with the “ridiculous” plan.

He said: “In the last year the Home Office have increased the use of agency staff, spending a staggering £25 million last year to agency firms, a £5 million increase on the previous year.

“Border Force are already using poorly trained seasonal workers at most ports and airports, not just at peak periods but throughout the year because of permanent staff cuts.

“The plans to use volunteer Border Force specials is a further move towards casualisation of the workforce.

“Government rhetoric has claimed that they are ‘strong and stable’. That is not the effect of their policies on this country. They are making our borders weaker with the use of casual labour and they are risking this country’s security on the cheap.”

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chair of the powerful Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “Filling the gaps with volunteers because of budget and staffing cuts raises very serious questions about border security and the Home Office commitment to this important public service. We will be calling for evidence on this proposal as part of our inquiry [into post-Brexit border security].”

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