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Tuesday May 15, 2012

May the Border Force be with you

Recently, returning to Majorca on a midday flight from Gatwick, I sauntered through a fairly empty Palma airport and made my way to the small booth that serves as border control to have my passport checked. There was a dribble of a queue and as luck would have it, one of the passport control officers -a former boyfriend of our local traffic warden – welcomed me back home with a winning smile and a wink. After a lively chat I set off to collect my luggage from the carousel and departed the airport in under twenty minutes.

At Heathrow of course it’s quite a different story and I can only thank my lucky stars that I normally fly into Gatwick. Although not as user-friendly as Palma, it thankfully doesn’t require new arrivals to queue for up to three hours as is apparently the case at Heathrow. The UK Border Agency and its lacklustre force on the ground, appear to be making a complete dog’s dinner of handling the flow of arrivals at Heathrow and it amazes me that it took David Cameron so long to actually take Home Secretary, Theresa May, to task on the issue.

In fact it seems extraordinarily, toe curlingly embarrassing that a so-called world class city such as London treats its visitors with such disdain. Aside from driving away lucrative international business-how many executives flying in for a fleeting meeting will tolerate spending half the day in a queue playing tiddlywinks?- I shudder at what will happen come the Olympics. Immigration Minister, Damian Green-how apt a surname-has assured airlines and a belligerent Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group, that a hit squad of 80 back office staff would be deployed when needed at Heathrow but why and how?

Will these poor mites be drawn away from counting paper clips and staples only to be thrust onto the world stage to oversee passport checks? What experience will they actually have of identifying potential terrorists and others hell bent on bringing mayhem to our streets? And more to the point, how can they be deployed so easily? What the heck are they doing in that back office anyway?

And now if things weren’t rock bottom enough, 4,500 employees from the Border Force have just announced that they’re downing tools to strike over pensions. You couldn’t make it up.

What solution can be found? Perhaps sacking the lot of them and bringing in what’s left of our armed forces to run the borders might be one cost effective alternative. The other of course is to let the chaos reign with the new sobriquet of ‘UK Border Farce’. At least long suffering in-coming passengers will know what they’re up against.

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