The UK Home Office is Still Not Fit for Purpose (Daily Express Jul 23, 2106)

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THANKS TO Brexit and Theresa May’s arrival as Prime Minister, the UK may be about to twee a sea-change in the often chaotic ways it has managed migration in recent years.

However it was not reassuring that during her first week as Home Secretary, Amber Rudd refused to commit to even a vague numerical target for reduced migration

However it was not reassuring that during her first week as Home Secretary, Amber Rudd refused to commit to even a vague numerical target for reduced migration, despite the fact that bringing net migration down to the “tens of thousands” was a Tory general election pledge.

A significant amount of the annual migration into the UK is beyond the Home Secretary’s control because of Britain’s membership of the EU.

But the fact is that according to Migration Watch non-EU immigration is the largest element of net migration into Britain.

Moreover, those aspects of non-EU immigration that most infuriate the public: abuse of the asylum system, the flouting of visa rules by students and the seemingly inexplicable inability of the system to remove those who are here illegally – are all fixable given political will and adequate resources. No new laws are needed. The Home Office just has do a better job of enforcing existing rules and keeping track of who comes and goes from the UK.

Perhaps the most urgent reform is one that was promised by the Cameron government and supposed to be in place by March 2015 but which was never implemented.

This is the re-establishment of embarkation controls in the country’s airports and seaports. Many countries, even in Europe, have passport control for people leaving the country.

It is the only practical way of ensuring a government has a reasonable idea of who is in the country and who has left.

Most people have no idea how inadequate our Government’s resources are when it comes to estimating both legal and illegal immigration. GETTY

Theresa May could change the way the UK copes with immigration
The Office for National Statistics is forced to rely on something called the International Passenger Survey.

This is a voluntary polling of passengers who come in from certain airports, ports and the Channel Tunnel.

What has made the IPS an especially bad source of guestimates for UK immigration is that, as the ONS admitted in 2014, its interviewers were sent to places such as Heathrow rather than the regional airports or coach terminals used by most migrants.

As a result it underestimated immigration by at least 350,000 over the previous decade.

The Home Office just has do a better job of enforcing existing rules
But knowing who is here is not enough. Britain needs a Home Office able and willing to enforce migration laws.

One of the biggest spurs to illegal immigration into Britain has been the perception abroad that once you have made it into the UK, by whatever method, you are unlikely to be removed.

This is true if you come in with false papers, overstay a visa, enrol in a bogus college, take part in a fake marriage, if you have committed terrorist offences abroad, even if you commit a serious crime during your time in the UK.

Although there may be more than a million illegal immigrants in the UK, employers who knowingly employ illegal immigrants are rarely ever prosecuted. Britain’s student visa regime has long been a notorious vehicle for illegal immigration.

And even though the Cameron governments closed down thousands of bogus colleges that existed only to get people into the country, there is a problem of students overstaying their visas.

Of the 100,000 non-EU people who come to this country every year on student visas, a huge proportion, perhaps half, simply vanishes after their visas expire.

Astonishingly the Home Office, which should be tracking those on student visas and then looking for those students who have overstayed, has routinely failed to do this.

Then there is the asylum system. As Alp Mehmet of Migration Watch points out, scores of thousands of people “are denied asylum every year but there is no record of them leaving”.

Britain needs a Home Office able and willing to enforce migration laws
They don’t depart of their own free will and the Home Office is too under-resourced or inept to deport them.

This is only partly because many British judges favour an extreme interpretation of European laws about deporting people to any country whose legal system they believe is not up to British standards.

It is mostly because the Home Office has never committed adequate resources to enforcing immigration law and tribunal rulings, removing those who have lost the right to remain, or keeping track on people who may have to be removed.

Indeed it is no exaggeration to say it is the inadequacies of the Home Office that have ensured Britain’s immigration laws are a joke.

Ms Rudd has a chance to change all this and transform her own reputation as a minister whose talents lie in public relations rather than running a government department.

Of course it will take money to enable the Home Office to properly do its job of safeguarding the country’s borders.

Ms Rudd’s predecessor was, for whatever reason, unable to demand the necessary extra cash from George Osborne to fund the Border Force and other vital, underfunded parts of the Home Office.

Shortly before the referendum it was revealed that the UK has only three coastal patrol boats for its entire coastline and that no one is keeping tabs on the country’s airstrips.

It is in everyone’s interest that the Home Office finally becomes fit for purpose. Once people know that Britain’s rules are enforced it will promote respect for the system, deter illegals, encourage migrants who play by the rules and make British voters feel less taken advantage of – all of which feeds social harmony.

Theresa May’s Record as Home Secretary is Alarming, Not Reassuring (Spectator Blog Jul 16, 2016)

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Despite David Cameron’s experience as a marketing man, his skills at reputation management were feeble compared to those of Theresa May. May was not a terrible Home Secretary but she was not a good one, still less an outstanding one.

Yes, she remained in office for six years. But longevity in office is hardly proof of success, even at the Home Office. Anyone who has worked in a large organisation has encountered long-serving, apparently unfireable incompetents, and one thing that the history of the Cameron administration surely proves is that being bad at your job rarely leads to losing that job.

Some kind of strange magic has prompted pundits and analysts to forget all the misfortunes and scandals of her tenure. Now seems a good time to remember them, and to consider the type of leadership style that they suggest.

To begin with there was the outcry over a relaxation of border checks on non-EU nationals that came about because of ‘unauthorised actions’ by a head of the Border Force who took a sensible pilot scheme too far. Later came the absurd vans carrying billboards telling illegal immigrants to leave. Then, the strange, secret advice deal with Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry that involved Mrs May travelling to that country whose criminal justice system is infamous for its barbarity and medieval cruelty. After that came the mistreatment of female asylum seekers by Home Office contractors at the Yarl’s Wood detention centre, a scandal that deepened when Mrs May banned the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women from visiting the centre.

There was also Mrs May’s decision to opt into the European Arrest Warrant, which allows immediate extradition without prima facie evidence to EU countries, some of which have corrupt, third-world style judicial systems. And in the case of the three radicalised British schoolgirls who flew to Turkey to join Isis, their recruiters were correct in predicting that they would be able to leave the country undetected. (Three years later, the Home Office has still failed to institute embarkation checks at British airports.) Together these illustrate the unhappy, almost South American combination of authoritarianism and lethargy that marked so much of the Home Office’s trajectory during Mrs May’s leadership

As well as the baffling, infamous mistreatment of Afghan interpreterswho had worked with British forces in Afghanistan (for which she characteristically escaped censure), Mrs May’s tenure at the Home Office saw a number of troubling decisions about who is and isn’t allowed to enter the UK on ideological and public safety grounds. Whatever one may think of the controversial American bloggers Pam Geller and Robert Spencer, neither have advocated violence, and both have spoken all around North America without incident. Their 2013 exclusion from the UK should concern anyone who takes freedom of speech seriously.

Then there was the cynical political correctness. Mrs May talked about coming down hard on hate crimes and lambasted the police about a lack of diversity. But she abjectly failed to identify the child rape rings of Rotherham, Rochdale, Sheffield, Bradford and Oxford as the racially and ethnically motivated hate crimes that they were.

When it came to police reform, May’s efforts were far less ambitious or impressive than anything achieved by Gove in the Department for Education or the Ministry of Justice. She certainly deserves credit for forcing through changes in pay, conditions and pensions and for potentially improving police leadership by allowing ‘direct entry’ to senior positions from civilian life. But many of the more disturbing tendencies in British policing have become worse under her leadership, most obviously the distortion of policing priorities by public relations concerns.

The nadir of this phenomenon was Operation Midland, one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of modern British policing. Millions of pounds were spent investigating allegations that various former ministers, intelligence chiefs and other top officials had been part of a paedophile ring that raped and murdered young boys. The fact that that both Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, the senior officer on this case and his boss, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, emerged from this sinister debacle with their jobs, was rather more illustrative of Mrs May’s real attitude to the policing establishment than her famous speech to the Police Federation in 2014.

May has also done little to reverse various policing trends that have alienated the public from the police, including the abandonment of neighbourhood policing, the substitution of decoy-like PCSOs and CCTV for beat patrols, and the massaging of crime statistics, At the same time Mrs May has given the nod to massive, transformative budget cuts that may genuinely make Britain’s police forces unfit for purpose. There is an argument that smaller overall numbers and decreased budgets don’t automatically translate to fewer frontline officers or less effective policing. But this assumes that forces are well-run and that resources aren’t so depleted that they cannot function. However, if many of your 43 separate forces are poorly managed and are culturally inclined to prioritise exciting, fashionable or easy aspects of policing – such as trawling social media for hate speech – over patrolling the streets, then smaller numbers will definitely make a difference for the worse.

Thanks to the cuts and also to Mrs May’s disdainful attacks on certain aspects of police culture, she leaves the Home Office with police morale at what may be an all time low (though nowhere near as bad as in the armed forces). It is telling that many police officers believe that her loud opposition to ‘stop and search’ and criticism of inadequate police diversity have been typical May opportunism that had more to do with image-management and personal ambition than any genuine concern for minorities or civil liberties.

And what of May’s record on migration? During the last election campaign David Cameron took brickbats for the fact that net migration into the UK had actually increased from 244,000 in 2010 to 330,000 in 2014 rather than being brought down to less than 100,000 as he had committed. Mrs May, the cabinet minister actually responsible for making the government’s commitment a reality, faced remarkably little criticism or even questioning about why this had failed.

The target was probably an impossible one given Britain’s chaotic border arrangements in 2010, and May certainly could not be blamed for the attractiveness of the UK and its work opportunities for young EU citizens from countries with ever-worsening youth unemployment. But you would be hard pressed to find evidence of serious and effective effort to repair or reform the parts of the Home Office entrusted with border security and migration.

As the then shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper pointed out, three years after May took over the ministry, the number of people refused entry had dropped by 50 per cent, the backlog of finding failed asylum seekers had gone up, the number of foreign prisoners removed had gone down, and the number of illegal immigrants deported had also gone down. Tens of thousands of international students kicked out of the country by the Home Office – in a panicked response to a TV documentary about a test cheating scam – then turned out to have been wrongly deported. Meanwhile, bogus colleges that falsify ‘student’ records so that foreigners can work illegally in the UK have continued to flourish because the Home Office has an inadequate number of staff assigned to checking them.

The Border Force, now a separate agency with spiffy new uniforms, is demoralised, overstretched and facing deeper, remarkably ill-timed austerity cuts. It has less than a handful of patrol boats to guard the coastline even as the migrant crisis deepens, and it is unable to keep any watch at all on the country’s many small airfields. Yet, remarkably, the Home Secretary never showed any inclination to stand up to the Chancellor on its behalf – even in the wake of the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks .

Despite her carefully fostered reputation for toughness, Mrs May’s record on extremism is perhaps the least impressive aspect of her checkered tenure at the Home Office. Any public official who seriously addresses radicalisation, ghettoisation and extremism risks being labeled an Islamophobe or worse. It takes a brave politician, one more committed to doing the right thing than to securing a glorious political future, to take on this hornets’ nest; Mrs May was not such a politician. This began to be clear during the Trojan Horse affair, when official reluctance to confront radicalisation in Birmingham schools prompted a concerned Education Secretary to venture onto the Home Secretary’s turf. (Her characteristic fury at this trespass was damaging to both departments at the time, and may well wreak havoc into the new government. Certainly her firing of Michael Gove’s as Justice Minister, despite the fact that his incomplete prison reforms have been universally lauded, looks like a destructive act of petty vengeance and personal spite.)

It became more apparent when Mrs May, having delivered some appropriate sound-bites, avoided potential career-inhibiting controversy by ensuring that the Home Office’s efforts to deal with tricky issues like female genital mutilation, honour killings and forced marriage remained as low key – and low impact – as possible. But it is even more obvious in the investigation Mrs May eventually set up into whether Britain’s Sharia courts, some legal, some not, might possibly discriminate against women in matters of divorce, domestic violence and child custody, as a result of a ‘misuse’ of Sharia teaching. (In the past the Home Secretary has implicitly claimed a surprising intimacy with Islamic law and political thought, asserting in 2014 that the actions of Isis ‘have absolutely no basis in anything written in the Koran.’)

Of course, Mrs May is hardly the first ambitious politician to have disregarded principle or even the public good in order to smooth her ride to the top. Her defenders would argue that a pragmatic lack of ideological ballast is one of the qualities she shares with David Cameron.

More disturbing are the tendencies that have caused her to be nicknamed Teflon Theresa or McCavity May. As well as the buck passing that ensured that blame for all of the Home Office’s failings fell onto junior ministers and civil servants, Mrs May and her staff put tremendous effort into ensuring that she rarely – if ever – faced a Paxman-style grilling. And so good were they at applying pressure on the media that remarkably few critical articles about her have ever been published. There’s even a peculiar tendency for those that have been published to be taken down or become unavailable.

Ronald Reagan once said there is no limit to what you can achieve if you don’t mind who gets the credit. Unfortunately it is also true that if you mind very much who gets credit and blame, then you are unlikely to achieve a great deal. As Home Secretary Theresa May was hobbled by her own ambition. Perhaps now she has the power and position she worked so hard to get, her main priority can at last be the country she serves.

Theresa May is a Failed Home Secretary and Bad Choice for PM (Reaction.Life 2 Jul 2016)

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(Originally published on the Daily Telegraph site July 1, 2016; taken down later that afternoon: see

In the run-up to the 2015 election one of the handicaps David Cameron had to finesse was the fact that net migration to the UK was three times as high as he had promised it would be. Remarkably, none of the opprobrium this failure provoked brought forth the name of Theresa May, the cabinet minister actually entrusted with bringing migration down. Then, as now, it was as if the icy Home Secretary had a dark magic that warded off all critical scrutiny.

The fact that her lead role in this fiasco went unmentioned reflects Mrs May’s clever, all-consuming efforts to burnish her image with a view to become prime minister. After all, Mrs May’s tenure as Home Secretary has been notably unsuccessful. Its abundant failures include a succession of derelictions that have left Britain’s borders and coastline at least as insecure as they were in 2010, and which mean that British governments still rely on guesswork to estimate how many people enter and leave the country.

People find this hard to credit because she exudes determination. Compared to many of her cabinet colleagues she has real gravitas. And few who follow British politics would deny that she is a deadly political infighter. Indeed Theresa May is to Westminster what Cersei Lannister is to Westeros in Game of Thrones: no one who challenges her survives unscarred; the welfare of her realm is a much lower priority than her craving for power.

Take the UK Border Force. Despite the increased terror threat, it was already a dangerously underfunded and demoralised agency when Mrs May announced in April that its budget was to be cut. Then in May, after two people-smugglers’ vessels were found sinking off the Kent coast, the public discovered that the Force has only three cutters protecting 7,700 miles of coastline. Italy by contrast has 600 boats patrolling its 4722 miles.

Considering the impression Mrs May gives of being serious about security, it’s astonishing that she has also allowed the UK’s small airfields to go unpatrolled — despite their attraction for traffickers of people, drugs and arms, and the urgings of the security services.

Then there is the failure to establish exit checks at all the country’s airports and ports. These were supposed to be in place by March 2015.

Unfortunately the Border Force isn’t the only organisation under Mrs May’s control that is manifestly unfit for purpose. Recent years have seen a cavalcade of Home Office decisions about visas and deportations that suggest a department with a bizarre sense of the national interest. The most infamous episode was the refusal of visas to Afghan interpreters who served with the British forces in Afghanistan – as Lord Guthrie said, a national shame. Mrs May has kept so quiet about this and other scandals – such as the collapse of the E-borders IT system, at cost of almost a billion pounds – that you might imagine someone else was in charge the Home Office.

It is not just a matter of the odd error. Yvette Cooper pointed out in 2013 that despite Coalition rhetoric, the number of people refused entry to the UK had dropped by 50%, the backlog of finding failed asylum seekers had gone up and the number of illegal immigrants deported had gone down. You’d almost imagine that Mrs May was so busy defending her turf and polishing her image that there was no time left to embark on the major reforms her department obviously needs.

The reputation for effectiveness that Mrs May enjoys mostly derives from a single, endlessly cited event: the occasion in 2014 when she delivered some harsh truths to a conference of the Police Federation. Unfortunately this was an isolated incident that, given the lack of any subsequent (or previous) effort at police reform, seems to have been intended mainly for public consumption.

In general Mrs May has avoided taking on the most serious institutional problems that afflict British policing. These include, among other things, a disturbing willingness by some forces to let public relations concerns determine their policing priorities, widespread overreliance on CCTV, a common propensity to massage crime numbers, the extreme risk aversion manifested during the London riots, and the preference for diverting police resources to patrol social media rather than the country’s streets.

There is also little evidence that Mrs May has paid much attention to the failure of several forces to protect vulnerable girls from the ethnically-motivated sexual predation seen in Rotherham and elsewhere. Nor, despite her proclaimed feminism, has Mrs May done much to ensure that the authorities protect girls from certain ethnic groups from forced marriage and genital mutilation. But again, Mrs May has managed to evade criticism for this.

When considering her suitability for party leadership, it’s also worth remembering Mrs May’s notorious “lack of collegiality”. David Laws’ memoirs paint a vivid picture of a secretive, rigid, controlling, even vengeful minister, so unpleasant to colleagues that a dread of meetings with her was something that cabinet members from both parties could bond over.

Unsurprisingly, Mrs May’s overwhelming concern with taking credit and deflecting blame made for a difficult working relationship with her department, just as her propensity for briefing the press against cabinet colleagues made her its most disliked member in two successive governments.

It is possible that Mrs May’s intimidating ruthlessness could make her the right person to negotiate with EU leaders. However, there’s little in her record to suggest she possesses either strong negotiation skills or the ability to win allies among other leaders.

It’s surely about time – and not too late – for conservatives to look behind Mrs May’s carefully-wrought image and consider if she really is the right person to lead the party and the country. There’s a vast gulf between being effective in office, and being effective at promoting yourself; it’s not one that Theresa May has yet crossed.

Theresa May is a failed Home Secretary and a bad choice for PM