Pressure mounted on Theresa May this morning after the UK Border Force chief Brodie Clark left the agency, claiming the Home Secretary was wrong to claim that he had relaxed passport checks without ministerial consent.
The row, ignited over the weekend, led to urgent questions being asked in the House of Commons on Monday and a select committee grilling of May yesterday regarding changes to various border control procedures during the summer.
MPs have been clamouring for answers from the Home Secretary about what went wrong. She claimed on Tuesday that "biometric tests were abandoned on a regular basis" without being authorised by the Cabinet minister.
A pilot, sanctioned by May, commenced in July to target what she described as "high-risk passengers" entering UK ports. However, she admitted on Monday that Clark had "authorised the wider relaxation of border controls without ministerial sanction".
During the busy summer months, immigration border guards were told to ignore biometric chips on the passports of non-eurozone citizens. Staff were also told to stop cross-checking personal information and fingerprints against a Home Office database of terror suspects and illegal immigrants.
May told the House: "I did not give my authorisation or consent ... as a result of these actions we will never know how many people passed through."
Clark denied those claims today, and said via a statement issued by his union – the First Division Association – that he would be lodging a "constructive dismissal" complaint with the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
The senior civil servant said:
Those statements are wrong and were made without the benefit of hearing my response to formal allegations. With the Home Secretary announcing and repeating her view that I am at fault, I cannot see how any process conducted by the Home Office or under its auspices, can be fair and balanced.
The Home Secretary suggests that I added additional measures, improperly, to the trial of our risk-based controls. I did not. Those measures have been in place since 2008/09.
The Home Secretary also implies that I relaxed the controls in favour of queue management. I did not. Despite pressure to reduce queues, including from ministers, I can never be accused of compromising security for convenience.
This summer saw queues of over three hours (non-EU) on a regular basis at Heathrow and I never once contemplated cutting our essential controls to ease the flow.
On the trials, I have pressed since December 2010 to progress these and I was pleased when the Home Secretary agreed to the pilot arrangements. The evidence to support them is substantial and the early findings are encouraging.
I would do nothing to jeopardise them and I firmly believe that a more fully risk-based way of operating will offer far greater protection to the United Kingdom.
Clark technically hasn't handed in his resignation to the UKBA of which his Border Force is a branch. Instead he said his position had become "untenable" following May's claims, and added that he was "saddened" to see his career end so abruptly after 40 years of "dedicated service".
The absent Border Force chief won't be making any further comment until he appears before the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Meanwhile, the UKBA backed May yesterday evening.
"Brodie Clark admitted to me on 2 November that on a number of occasions this year he authorised his staff to go further than ministerial instruction," said the agency's boss Rob Whiteman. "I therefore suspended him from his duties."
Whiteman added: "In my opinion it was right for officials to have recommended the pilot so that we focus attention on higher risks to our border, but it is unacceptable that one of my senior officials went further than was approved." ®