Tin-foil hat time?

Let’s put a few totally unrelated thoughts together:

As far back as May 2011:

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has been criticised in a report examining its operations in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Independent inspector John Vine said he was concerned at how it operated at major ports and airports.

He found senior managers focused on moving staff to passport control, potentially at the expense of detecting drugs and other illicit goods.

He also said it had not assessed the threat to small ports and airports.

On to the latest:

Mrs May is facing Labour demands to disclose whether any terror suspects are believed to have entered the country after border guards were instructed not to carry out certain passport checks.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has claimed that border controls were relaxed to keep queues down despite cuts to personnel. It also said the decision was authorised by ministers.

Sue Smith, of the PCS, blamed what she claimed had been a 10 per cent reduction in border force staff.

‘The travelling public understandably want to have a fast and efficient service, and yet we are also under a reduced workforce,’ she said.

‘So, I think senior managers have seen this as a way to provide the public with what they want.’

She added that senior managers had told the union that the changes to border checks had been made with the authorisation of ministers.

‘As far as our staff were concerned, this was all done with ministerial authority, and that’s the information we have received,’ she said.

What that means:

Apart from the obvious headline stuff, the 20% budget slash and staffing cutbacks — 5,000 jobs over four years —  in the UKBA means that “minor” ports and smaller airfields go without cover:

The operator of the flight undertakes full security and passport checks prior to the passenger’s arrival at the airport. This is then usually followed by a further, quick ID and baggage check before boarding, which means that the passengers are able to move through the F[ixed] B[ase] O[perator] very quickly once they arrive – without the security delays so often experienced at main airport terminals. Depending on the country, these final checks can often be undertaken by the staff of the FBO or handling agent.

Arrive by a private plane at a minor airfield and there’s no UKBA cover at all. Of course, such VIPs are “pre-screened” — aren’t they? Anyone, such decent, upstanding folk shouldn’t be inconvenienced to the same degradation as us peasants. Right?


Lydd airport was, immediately post-WW2, the main base for short-hops to France — it ran a well-publicised car-ferry lift to Le Touquet. Bring your Rolls, your Bentley, and we’ll have you on the golf-course or in the casino within the hour.

It has a 5,000 foot runway  not much short of Belfast City, Jersey, Derry City — and certainly longer than London City’s 3900 feet — all of which are up to running scheduled services.

That may add a touch of spice to Private Eye‘s recent report:

A PLANNING inspector is now settling down, after hearing eight months of evidence, to decide whether to back Shepway district councillors’ bizarre decision to grant permission for a runway extension and a new terminal at Lydd Airport against the strong advice of their own planning officers (Eyes passim).

But a court case earlier this year may throw some light on how decisions are reached in that part of Kent.

The airport’s former boss, Jordanian Zaher Deir, was suing owner Sheikh Fahad Al Athel (familiar to Eye readers as the Saudi arms dealer in the Al Yamamah scandal) over non-payment of directorship fees. In evidence, the sheikh challenged some of Deir’s spending on his company credit card. But Deir told the court that the purchases were not for his own benefit but, er, “gifts to councillors” to further the interests of the company.

Malcolm may be a conspiracy theorist, but  how decisions are reached in that part of Kent wouldn’t be his immediate thought there.

It might involve “arm dealer” and uncontrolled access to the UK.

Or, as Clive Aslet of Country Life wrote for the Daily Telegraph (albeit before the 2010 General Election):

Lydd lies at the end of a straggle of lanes which would not cope with the traffic of two million prospective passengers. Less than two miles away is a nuclear power station: not the sort of thing you would want to crash a 737 aircraft into, unless you happened to be a terrorist, of course. As for jobs, politicians tend to forget that local people might become baggage handlers but better paid work would go to more highly skilled workers brought in from outside.

The fact that Lydd airport is unlikely ever to be commercially profitable will not, of itself, influence the planning outcome. Under our glorious system, private individuals and companies are entitled to lose their money if they want to. But the rest of us have an interest in keeping this extraordinary and evocative place as it is. We live in uncertain times.


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Filed under air travel., City of Derry Airport, Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, politics, Private Eye, security, Theresa May

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