Northern Ireland news

More than 1,000 Border Force jobs withdrawn over 'British passports only' policy

The move comes after The Irish News revealed only British passport holders were eligible for the jobs
Brendan Hughes

THE UK Border Force is to withdraw and re-advertise more than 1,000 jobs in its Brexit recruitment drive after facing discrimination claims for restricting applications to only British passport holders.

The Home Office has faced mounting pressure since the policy was exposed on Monday by The Irish News.

Political parties on both sides of the Irish border raised concerns, while the Equality Commission issued a warning on grounds of fair employment legislation.

In a U-turn yesterday, the Home Office apologised and said the posts will be re-advertised with the British passport requirement removed.

It said the criteria was an "error" and the application packs should simply have asked people to provide any valid passport.

However, The Irish News has seen email correspondence in which an Irish passport holder from Northern Ireland was told by Border Force officials in December during an earlier recruitment drive she could not apply unless she obtained a UK passport.

The SDLP's Claire Hanna, the party's Brexit spokesperson, branded the climbdown a "border farce".

She said it was "yet another example of the UK simply not understanding or caring enough about the different and specific impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland".

More than 1,000 new posts including 21 based in Belfast are currently being advertised within Border Force, which deals with immigration and customs checks.

The jobs are being created in preparation for the UK leaving the European Union – fuelling fears of a hard border.

How The Irish News revealed only British passport holders were eligible to apply for the Border Force posts

Applicants needed a "full and valid British passport" according to the eligibility criteria, meaning people in the north with only Irish passports could not apply.

The jobs are regarded as 'reserved posts', which under British government civil service rules means "only UK nationals may be employed" because the jobs usually "require special allegiance to the crown".

The Equality Commission – which contacted Border Force about the passport controversy on Monday – warned the criteria "could raise concerns about possible discrimination" based on fair employment laws.

It also said Border Force should give consideration of the Good Friday Agreement, which allows people born in Northern Ireland to choose to be British citizens, Irish citizens or both.

The Home Office yesterday apologised and said the jobs would be re-advertised for an extra two weeks with amended wording.

"We are aware of an error that occurred within the candidate packs, which accompanied the roles advertised," the department said.

"This incorrectly stated that eligibility was based on having a full and valid British passport. It should instead have read 'a full and valid passport'.

"We apologise for this error and are now in the process of correcting it.

"In view of this being brought to our attention, the decision was taken to stop the campaign, correct the wording and re-advertise. This is to ensure that no eligible candidates are disadvantaged."

Candidates who have already applied will have their applications carried over, the department added.

However, it has emerged other Border Force posts were advertised last year with the same British passport requirement.

In emails last year, an applicant from the north with an Irish passport queried why a UK passport was needed.

Responding in December, a Border Force official wrote: "We can confirm that as this is a reserved post, all candidates must hold a full UK passport in order to apply."

Ms Hanna, SDLP MLA for South Belfast, welcomed the move by the Home Office but said concerns remain.

"It is welcome that this bar on Irish passport holders has belatedly been lifted, but this was clearly not just an administrative error but a policy," she said.

"This 'border farce' is yet another example of the UK simply not understanding or caring enough about the different and specific impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland, and a illustration of the blunt and destructive way in which it forces issues of identity and allegiance into our everyday lives.

"The question still remains about what border these employees will be guarding. No border on this island is acceptable or possible, and it is increasingly clear that staying in both the customs union and single market is the only way to address the disastrous impact of Brexit."

The British and Irish governments and the EU all insist they want to avoid a 'hard border' on the island of Ireland.

Earlier this week, the Home Office said the UK-wide recruitment campaign covers port and airport locations, but will also "respond flexibly to emerging requirements, including any future requirements as a result of EU exit".

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