Theresa May’s long-promised system of “100% exit checks” at Britain’s borders is so unreliable that it contains no departure records for more than 600,000 people who should have left the country in the past two years, a watchdog has revealed.
A report by David Bolt, the chief inspector of borders and immigration, said that the system also contains a growing “unmatched pot” of more than 201,000 records of departures of people for whom there is no Home Office record that they ever entered the country.
Bolt quoted Home Office staff complaining that they had been “mis-sold the programme”, that it was “rushed” and “flawed” and that inside the department there had been no comprehension of the vast and complicated nature of the data and the patterns it showed.
“Because it was not possible to to be certain about a person’s movements they could not rely on it as evidence of immigration (non) compliance,” the chief inspector said.
Industry representatives quoted by Bolt were far more scathing, describing the introduction of the exit check programme as “shambolic” with persistent issues about data quality, gaps and threats of sanctions against airlines that didn’t comply. One check-in agent who contacted the Home Office to ask what to do about a passenger trying to leave the UK on an expired passport was told: “Its up to you.”
May, during her time as home secretary, had repeatedly promised to introduce a full exit check programme through the e-borders system by the 2015 general election on the pledge of keeping track of everybody coming in and going out of Britain.
The chief inspector said that by June 2017, despite the promise of 100% coverage, gaps still remained in collecting data on those arriving by sea, ferries, for rail journeys in and out of Britain and travel to and from Ireland within the common travel area.