Border Force could be turned into ‘fully-fledged’ uniformed service to deter strikes

Striking Border Force workers picket at Gatwick Airport last month - STUART BROCK/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Striking Border Force workers picket at Gatwick Airport last month – STUART BROCK/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Ministers are planning an overhaul of Border Force that could turn it into a “fully-fledged” uniformed service that is less likely to strike.

They are frustrated that staff who play a critical role in national security are still prepared to go on strike and cause potential havoc at the border.

They have ruled out a change in the law to ban Border Force officers from taking industrial action but are developing plans modelled on how the military and police operate to counter the pro-strike mentality.

It comes amid fears that the PCS union which represents Border Force officers is ready to escalate its strike action over pay with simultaneous walkouts at airports and seaports including Dover.

The planned measures have been put forward by Alexander Downer, a former Australian foreign minister who was the architect of its sovereign borders policy that included push-backs at sea and offshoring asylum seekers.

He was commissioned by the Government to review Border Force, which has a mix of uniformed staff and civil servants following its demerger from the Border Agency in 2012.

Members of the Border Force tow into the Port of Dover a dingy used by migrants who were rescued while crossing the Channel - PETER NICHOLLS
Members of the Border Force tow into the Port of Dover a dingy used by migrants who were rescued while crossing the Channel – PETER NICHOLLS

Among his proposed measures are a Sandhurst-style academy, a reform of contracts which currently allow some staff to opt out of working anti-social hours, and an overhaul of training to boost the “esprit de corps” of officers.

It is understood the reforms are being considered by Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, and Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister.

A government source said: “There is a tension in the Border Force. On the one hand, they provide a critical service and should be treated as such but on the other they go on strike and cause havoc at our borders in a way other emergency services like the police would not do so.

“The way to resolve that tension is to make it a fully fledged uniformed service, where you would provide it with the characteristics that a uniformed force possesses – as per Downer – and hold them to that elevated standard.”

Under the plans, the new academy would ensure all Border Force officers were trained to the same standard like the police or military.

“A lot of this goes to the training,” Mr Downer told The Telegraph. “They would all have a comprehensive training scheme so that they learn the basic skills across the board including customs and immigration skills. It also helps build an esprit de corps in BF, a greater sense of belonging to a professional organisation.”

‘Divisive’ 9-5 contracts

He proposed a shake-up to end the divisiveness of “legacy” contracts where some staff work 9am-5pm. “When some people are prepared to work anti social hours and some are not, it is difficult to create a sense of unity and sharing the burden, a shared ethos to unify the workers,” said Mr Downer.

He recommended ending inconsistencies in training where, for example, some officers are trained to protect a colleague in a confrontation or physically apprehend a person but others are not. It means officers can go into a confrontational situation unsure whether a colleague will be able to defend them.

There would also be a new management structure modelled on the way the military advises ministers in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) with direct input into policy.

At present, Border Force chiefs can be left out of discussions without direct access to the Home Secretary. “Border Force should have a distinct identity and voice within the Home Office, based around their unique characteristics as a uniformed force,” said Mr Downer.

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