Forget what your calendars say, this has been the month of May. It began with Theresa May’s department boasting that net migration has fallen by a third. It continued with her speech to ConservativeHome’s Victory 2015 conference. And now, today, it sees her make an important announcement in the Commons. The dysfunctional UK Border Agency is effectively going to be abolished, and two new organisations will take its place. One will deal with immigration and visas. The other will deal with law enforcement.
The timing of this announcement is rather opportune: only yesterday, the Home Affairs select committee released a report that was damning about UKBA’s performance – particularly in building up a backlog of cases that could take up to 24 years to clear – and about Lin Homer, its former boss. But that’s just a coincidence. In her statement and the discussion that followed, Theresa May emphasised that this decision had been taken over many months, and because of longstanding concerns. How longstanding? “In truth, the Agency was not set up to absorb the level of mass immigration that we saw under the last government,” she said.
Yvette Cooper half-welcomed Theresa May’s announcement and half-attacked it. Her point was that May herself should take some of the blame for the UKBA’s failings, thanks to the 30 per cent cuts, etc, etc. But here's the thing: May will take more of the blame – or praise, as the case may be – under the new system. The new organisations aren’t being set up as agencies but will report directly to Home Office ministers, and that’s before we get onto the work the department will now undertake to “modernise IT across the whole immigration system”. In future, the chain of accountability will stop at the Home Secretary.