Charlie Elphicke is MP for Dover and Deal.
In less than 600 days, Britain will leave the EU. Uncontrolled EU immigration will come to an end. To be ready for this on day one will require a significant strengthening of our border controls. In addition, the rising threats of organised crime, people trafficking and terror all mean we must invest more in security to keep our country safe. Yet at the same time we want to make sure journeys for legitimate travellers are smooth and make an immigration policy that works for Britain.
Post Brexit, free movement will end. This means we will need to extend our full border control systems from the current 12.5 million to a further 25.5 million visitors to the United Kingdom. Until now, travellers from the EU have been subject to the same border checks as UK citizens. Post Brexit, this will change. EU citizens will become subject to the same checks as visitors from anywhere else in the world. Having procedures in place to manage full checks on 38 million visitors is going to be a challenge. It’s not hard to see why the Home Office has been running up the white flag and calling for free movement to be included in any “transition”.
So how can we be ready on day one to take back control of our borders? As things stand, we are behind the times in gaining valuable information and raising the money to pay for it. For many years, the USA’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization(ESTA) has charged a fee of US$14 – equivalent to around £10 – for a “visa waiver”. The EU is drawing up plans for such a scheme. So should we. We could adopt the US system and apply it to a visa waiver scheme for visitors from the EU and other countries we have a visa waiver programme with. Charging visitors £10 a time would raise a lot of cash. For example, 25.5 million EU visitors a year paying £10 would provide about £255 million. Given the Borders budget is currently some £550 million, moving into line with what other nations are doing would fund a 50 per cent increase in the Borders budget.
Along with money, a visa waiver system provides a wealth of information. Information we could use to strengthen our wider security and intelligence effort. Using this information and keeping on top of the extra burdens that are going to be placed on our borders will require investment. Investment in tried and tested modern systems will enable much faster checks to be made and allow most of the processing to be automated. Using systems to make all necessary checks long before people arrive at ports or airports will help minimise travel delays for legitimate travellers. An important paper by the think tank Reform sets out a blueprint for how cutting edge digital borders can be delivered.
Investment is also needed to make sure that we have enough Border officers to carry out checks needed at ports like Dover and prevent queues from building up at Heathrow. With information and modern systems flagging up persons of interest before they arrive at ports and airports, Border officers will be able to focus on the greatest risks. In this way, our borders can be made stronger and more secure while delays are reduced for legitimate travellers.
We may be leaving the EU – but we are not leaving Europe. At the Dover frontline, we know the value and importance of co-operation. Particularly to defeat the traffickers, terrorists and organised criminals that menace our civilisation. We have a long standing relationship sharing intelligence with Europe. And as part of the Five Eyes intelligence community we can and should be a vital intelligence bridge. It is in the interest of the UK and Europe that we continue to share intelligence and see that the proper security checks which are made at borders as are proportionate and necessary.
Using systems and intelligence more effectively will also help us keep foreign criminals out of the UK. If they can’t get in, then we won’t have so much trouble seeking to chuck them out. Having visa waiver applications include a requirement to provide the address a person will be staying at in the UK will help the authorities track down visa over-stayers.
Ending uncontrolled EU immigration will allow us to take back control of our jobs market too. This is a huge opportunity to give the children of our land greater opportunities to succeed. We already have a work permit system for non EU nations – we can extend that to include EU countries. Using jobs data effectively we can target the availability – and pricing – of permits to enable business to access the skills they need while making sure permits are not used to shut our young people out of the jobs market or push down wages. Citizens and consumers should always come before corporates. We should not be afraid to challenge big business to invest more in people.
Leaving the EU is a huge national project. The situation with our borders will be a very complex part of it. We can introduce a work permit system that will put citizens and consumers ahead of corporates – giving our young people the chance to succeed. By adopting a US style visa waiver system we can pay for investment in our border controls. Using the tried and tested systems already in operation around the world will enable our dedicated Border officers to focus on the people who pose the greatest threat. In doing so, we should be ambitious to cut travel delays for legitimate visitors while increasing the safety and security of our borders. We have just over a year and a half to go – we can make it a huge success from day one.