On Thursday, Harper released a statement in response to the Commons Home Affairs select committee’s damning report in which he said the UK Border Agency was on a “sure footing” for the future.
However, just five days later, Home Secretary Theresa May announced the UKBA is to be scrapped and replaced with two separate organisations.
The accusation was made at a Home Affairs select committee meeting today.
Keith Vaz, chair of the committee, said Harper’s comments could be construed as “tantamount to misleading the House”.
And Vaz asked whether Harper had been “kept out of the loop” of discussions surrounding the decision to scrap the UKBA – which have been mooted behind the scenes for months, according to Home Office permanent secretary Mark Sedwill.
On Thursday, 25 March, Harper told the House: “The UK Border Agency is playing an important role in ensuring our reforms are having an impact in all the right places.
“The Agency has already shown signs of significant improvement.
“I am confident that these measures represent the start of a period of further improvement that will leave the UK Border Agency on the sure footing necessary to continue to deliver a safe and efficient immigration system.”
Today, Sedwill denied Harper had misled Parliament, saying he wouldn’t expect the minister to foreshadow a decision which had not yet been made.
He made clear that officials had been working on the plan to scrap UKBA for some time; that formal decisions were taken in the last few days; and that once the home secretary took the decision she brought it to the House as soon as possible.
In a speech to the Commons today, May said: “UKBA has been a troubled organisation for many years.
“It has a poor IT system and operates under complex legal arrangements that often work against it.
“In keeping with the changes we made last year to Border Force, the government is splitting up the UK Border Agency.
“In its place will be an immigration and visa service and an immigration law enforcement organisation. By creating two entities instead of one, we will be able to create distinct cultures.
“Two smaller entities will also mean greater transparency and accountability and that brings me to the second change I intend to make. UKBA was given agency status in order to keep its work at an arm’s length from ministers.
“That was wrong. It created a closed, secretive and defensive culture. So I can tell the House that the new entities will not have agency status and will sit in the Home Office, reporting to ministers.
“UKBA was given agency status in order to keep its work at an arm’s length from ministers. That was wrong. It created a closed, secretive and defensive culture.”
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