With over 200 million passengers travelling to or from the UK each year, policing the UK’s borders is a massive task. Responsibility for protecting and monitoring the UK’s borders currently rests largely with the UK Border Agency and the UK police. The introduction of the e-Borders immigration system in 2009 has helped in the battle to ensure that those who enter the UK do so lawfully and are unlikely to commit an offence whilst they are in the country. Amongst the innovations introduced under the E-Borders system are the use of biometric data and the requirement for carriers to provide pre-departure passenger information to the UK’s immigration authorities.
The UK police and Border Agency staff aim not only to identify foreign nationals who pose a threat to the UK, but also to pick up returning British citizens or residents who may be wanted for an offence. Whilst currently focused on air travellers, the immigration authorities hope that by 2014 the e-Borders system will allow the authorities to carry out checks on all passengers travelling to or from the UK.
The UK’s regional police forces currently work together with the UK Border Agency to monitor passengers arriving in the UK. The Border Agency has primary responsibility for enforcing UK immigration and customs laws and the police have responsibility for general security issues involving the UK’s borders. The gathering of intelligence and information has traditionally fallen to the UK police’s Special Branch.
The National Border Targeting Centre
The National Border Targeting Centre is at the heart of the e-Borders immigration system. Passport details and other information provided by passengers, before they depart for the UK, are forwarded to the National Border Targeting Centre. There it is analysed by UK Border Agency staff, police and members of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The information can be cross-checked against other national databases. More detailed information may be gathered from passengers travelling on routes which have been deemed to be high risk. The aim is to identify passengers who may pose a threat to the UK, commit an offence or who are already wanted by the police.
Colour-coded alerts may be issued, notifying the police about incoming passengers who require attention. A red alert means that an airline passenger may be arrested on the plane or as they leave it. An amber alert means the passenger may be arrested while they are waiting to go through passport control. A green alert means that the passenger’s local police will be notified that he or she is in the UK. A red alert does not necessarily mean that a passenger is about to commit an offence as soon as they arrive in the UK but may mean, for example, that they show up on the Police National Computer as somebody who is wanted in the UK for a crime and has a history of using violence against the police.
A Unified UK Border Police Force
There have been proposals that the UK should have a specialist border police force who would work together with the UK Border Agency to police the UK’s borders. The proposed border police force could consist of about 3000 officers. Members of the UK’s Association of Chief Police Officers are amongst those who have supported this proposal. However, creating a single force to police the UK’s borders would be a hugely complex task – not least of all because Scottish borders are currently covered by a separate legal system. The logistical problems have been seen by some as insurmountable.
The UK’s previous government believed that the difficulty of setting up a single border police force outweighed the benefits. In their pre-election manifesto the Conservative Party said that they would create a Border Police Force, whose tasks would include combating people trafficking as well as unlawful immigration, if they were elected. The Liberal Democrats proposed the introduction of a similar National Border Force in their manifesto.
The UK’s Conservative-Liberal coalition government confirmed their intention to create a dedicated Border Police Force in their “programme for government” and in the Queen’s Speech, which opened the new parliament in May 2010. The government has said that the proposed Border Police Force would be part of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The force would have responsibility for policing immigration, improving national security and combating trafficking. However, this aim does not appear to be at the top of the new government’s agenda – perhaps because of the expense that it will involve.