A body blow to the British government's plans to record all cross border journeys

According to an RYA report, the Home Office’s e-Borders programme has most likely been scuppered by the conclusions of a Home Affairs Select Committee. This augurs well for those who, like the RYA, worry that the UK Border Agency has been on a steady process of mission creep that extends well beyond its legal remit.

The committee was tasked with investigating a £1.2 billion programme that began with making it compulsory for commercial carriers to submit online names and details of all people travelling outside the UK in advance of travel and was ultimately to apply to every individual leaving the UK by any means.

As you are probably well aware, e-Borders has already been applied to most airlines.

The same scheme was to be rolled out (as they say) to recreational craft. The RYA had been standing up for sailors by arguing that it was impractical for yachtsmen and motorboaters going foreign to enter destination and names of all crew online before setting off.

Sometimes, they argued (to the bewilderment of government officials) we couldn’t even be sure where we would end up, and we wouldn’t necessarily want to be forced to make a pre-ordained landfall.

Looking at the bigger picture, e-Borders was a very short step away from obligatory submission to the government for permission to leave the country. Happily, therefore, the parliamentary committee has given this anti-libertarian idea the bum’s rush, stating firmly: ‘the e-Borders programme is… as far as we can ascertain, likely to be illegal under the EU Treaty’.

“It remains to be seen how the Government will respond to the Committee’s report,” comments Gus Lewis, the RYA’s head of government affairs, “but if the reports in the national media are correct the future of the e-Borders programme in its current form must be in doubt.”

This conclusion will hopefully also make it harder for the UK Border Agency to argue that they have any right to stop and search British vessels coasting in UK waters and ask for skippers’ or crews’ IDs, which is another area of concern for the RYA, and ourselves.
I have covered this alarming development in previous (most recently here), and outlined the reasons why we should be concerned here.

The Home Office has replied to my questions about this in vague terms that suggest it is unable to put its finger on the legislation that gives the UK Border Agency draconian powers expressly forbidden to the police, yet makes it quite clear the UKBA intends to carry on anyway.

I will be pursuing this again in the New Year, and we may also know by then how the UK Border Agency’s meeting with the RYA over the same matter went.

For those who say what’s the big deal, it’s quite simpy this: we should be deeply worried when agents of the state make a grab for powers that were never granted to them by parliamentary process – particularly, as in this case, powers that infringe citizens’ privacy or freedom of movement.

I think that in its enthusiasm to make up for years of blatant failure to exercise proper border control, the UK Border Agency and its masters are now going overboard by leapfrogging the democratic process. Beware.