The Border Force should be pushing back against the refugee boats, not the Home Office | William Hallowell


Priti Patel is the Home Secretary. The Border Force must obey her elected command and do their jobs, rather than challenge her with ‘moral’ objections.

The PCS union have expressed concern over Priti Patel’s tactics to curb the ongoing migrant crisis, which last week saw an alarming record of 1,185 illegal immigrants entering the country in one day.

For context, some 1,800 migrants crossed the Channel in the whole of 2019, and 8,400 in 2020. Only eleven and a half months into 2021, 23,500 migrants have already successfully sought refuge in the UK. And although the Government’s manifesto promises to ‘Take Back Control’ under the free reign of a sovereign ‘Brexit Britain’, they have not yet managed to do so despite Patel’s Channel rhetoric.

Whilst some continue to ignore this dramatic increase in the number of people crossing the Channel every day, the PCS union have ‘raised concern’ over the tactics being deployed by the Home Secretary in order to tackle the crisis. The Guardian reports that Border Force guards are exploring the possibility of seeking a judicial review over the Government’s attempts to reduce the number of migrants entering the country illegally, as public pressure mounts.

What is deeply troubling about this, is that opposition to the ‘pushback’ tactics is being justified, unsurprisingly, by concerns over morality. But the Border Force is a public body under the command of the Home Office and must adhere to the authority of any incumbent government, regardless of party or policy, and regardless of personal objections.

To attempt a judicial review of a democratically elected Government putting forward their agenda is to inappropriately overrule the basic chain of command. Had the Met Police decided to mutiny over the Government’s handling of Black Lives Matter protests last year, or British troops refuse to deploy to Iraq, there would have been uproar; for the PCS union to seek to undermine the authority of Government policy means it is unfit for purpose as a public body.

Reportedly, the Home Office’s own lawyers have warned that its policy on illegal immigration may cause strike action (at best) and a legal battle from Border Force staff (at worst). Simply, it is not the role of public servants to question the authority or command of the Government – irrespective of personal views. Should NHS staff refuse to work in hospitals, care homes or GP surgeries because they, on a personal level, disagree with the Prime Minister’s handling of the pandemic? To do so would be totally irresponsible and unprofessional. Should civil servants strike over Government legislation because they merely disapprove of it? To do so would totally overrule the elected authority of the Government and undermine the unelected role of the civil service in being impartial to Government policy (as it would if done so by any public service or body). Therefore, for Border Force staff to rebel against the Home Office on the migrant crisis should be completely outrageous if public sector services are to perform as they are designed and ordered to.

Whilst Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, may argue that “the union is right to challenge pushbacks as cruel, dangerous and in conflict with international law”, personal opinion should not come before, or interfere with, the professional duty of Border Force staff.

Meanwhile, Dan O’Mahoney, appointed by Priti Patel as Clandestine Channel Threat Commander in order to thwart the UK’s illegal immigration problem, has rightly said that “migrants making these dangerous crossings are putting their lives at risk and it is vital we do everything we can to prevent them and break the business model of the criminal gangs exploiting people”. This is a point I have addressed recently on discussions around the ‘moral’ approach to Britain’s migrant crisis.

Mahoney’s perspective perfectly illustrates the position from which these discussions must be considered. Whilst discourse around this issue continues to centre around ‘vulnerable’ migrants, and the ‘immorality’ in denying them entry to the country, what should instead be at the forefront of the discussion is the fact that people smugglers continue to profit off the exploitation of migrants, and who are really the root of the issue when considering people risking their lives to come to Britain, rather than the Government’s ‘pushback’ tactics.

It is unacceptable that the PCS union should threaten potential legal action against the Home Office. As public servants, Border Force staff are not in a position to undermine Government policy – the policy of which is instructed by a democratically elected Government voted in on a manifesto promise to tackle illegal immigration. The professional duty of public servants must rightly come before any personal objections raised against the policy of our Government. Otherwise, what is the point in having public services that act impartially to party or policy?


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