The Home Office is reportedly discussing plans to establish a volunteer contingent within the Border Force along the lines of the police special constabularies to help secure Britain’s border.
The plans are being considered in Whitehall as concerns are increasingly raised about Britain’s ability to secure its borders, both in light of recent cuts and considering the large numbers of minor harbours and entry points along the coastline. Reports published earlier this year identified nearly thirty wharves, marinas and jetties on the east coast that had been left without any Border Force presence for over a year – making them a prime entry point for drug smugglers, illegal entries and other criminal conspiracies.
It is expected that the volunteers would primarily be used to bolster staffing levels in the Border Force which manages frontline operations at air, sea and rail ports including passport control and checking packages and cargo coming into the country.
They would not be involved in the separate Immigration Enforcement Service which enforces immigration law, including the removal of people illegally living within the United Kingdom. Both the Border Force and Immigration Enforcement, along with UK Visas and Immigration, were previously amalgamated as part of the short-lived UK Border Agency.
First reported by the Mail on Sunday the news has subsequently been picked up by several other news sources, many deriding the scheme with the “Dad’s Army” moniker. Dover MP Charlie Elphicke agreed that more needed to be done to secure small ports and airfields but argued that “border security is a skilled job” and that “great caution” was necessary before pursuing the volunteer model.
The PCS union, which represents most of the 8,000 Border Force members also expressed concerns over the proposal. Mark Serwotka, the general secretary, highlighted that seasonal workers were already being overused – even outside of peak periods – due to shortage of permanent staff and that they lacked the proper training to do the job effectively.
The use of volunteers in law enforcement is not unusual in Britain. The special constabulary predates the fulltime police service and volunteer Special Constables have increasingly played a more active role in frontline policing as cuts impact fulltime officer numbers.
More recently the National Crime Agency, formed in 2013 from an amalgamation of several earlier national law enforcement bodies, was established from the ground up with a volunteer contingent in mind. Specifically targeting individuals with experience in cyber security, financial markets, forensic accountancy and ethno-cultural knowledge, NCA Specials provide expert levels of specialist support for a variety of investigations.