The UK Home Office has come under fire after unveiling plans to enlist teams of volunteers to help patrol the British coastline, with critics comparing it to the popular ’70s sitcom, ‘Dad’s Army.’
After years of Tory cutbacks and layoffs to the UK Border Force, which handles customs and immigration, authorities may have found a ‘solution’ to the staffing crisis. On Sunday, the Daily Mail reported on plans for a trial run of a 50-strong team of volunteers, similar to the ‘special constables’ system for the police, to help patrol the east coast of England.
“Border Force is currently considering the potential benefits of a Border Force Special Volunteer Force and is in discussion with other law enforcement agencies such as local police to understand how they use volunteers in addition to their existing workforce,” a Home Office said in a statement as cited by the Daily Mail.
The Home Office didn’t reveal how the volunteers would be vetted or what training they would undergo, but if the trial is successful, the scheme will be expanded to cover all 7,000 miles of the British coastline. Volunteers would also be posted at airfields checking small aircraft flying to and from Europe. Earlier reports indicated the UK’s coastline is worryingly under-policed.
Out of 62 smaller ports, quays, marinas and jetties on the east coast, Border Force officers failed to attend to 27 crossings between April 2015 to June 2016, leaving it vulnerable to terrorists, people smugglers and organized crime, stated a report by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration published in July.
Meanwhile, the number of detected “clandestine arrivals” [illegal immigrants] arriving at some of those ports almost doubled between 2014 and 2016. A 2016 report by David Anderson QC, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, noted that smaller southern and eastern ports could be used by returning Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) fighters coming back from the Middle East.
The Home Office scheme was criticized by politicians on both ends of the political spectrum. Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover, voiced concern about IS fighters and illegal immigrants being faced down by untrained volunteers. “We can’t have a Dad’s Army-type of set-up,” he said, referring to the popular 1970s sitcom which follows the antics of a group of geriatric Home Guard volunteers during the Second World War.
Labor MP Yvette Cooper said filling the Border Force ranks with volunteers “raises very serious questions about border security” while Mark Serwotka, the General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union which represents many Border Force staff, accused the government of trying to run the country’s security on the cheap.
“Border Force is already using poorly trained seasonal workers at most ports and airports, not just at peak periods but throughout the year because of permanent staff cuts. The plans to use volunteer Border Force specials is a further move towards casualization of the workforce,” he said, as cited by local media.