UK

Immigration watchdog sacked amid Home Office row over border security concerns

David Neal ‘breached’ the terms of his appointment and was informed his time in post was being immediately terminated.

David Neal has been sacked
David Neal David Neal has been sacked (ICIBI Corporate Services/PA)

The borders and immigration watchdog has been sacked after he “lost the confidence of the Home Secretary”, the Home Office has said.

David Neal “breached” the terms of his appointment and was informed his time in post was being immediately terminated on Tuesday, according to the Government department.

It comes after Mr Neal and the Home Office became embroiled in a public row about concerns he was raising over security checks at airports.

David Neal’s appointment was terminated after he ‘lost the confidence’ of Home Secretary James Cleverly
James Cleverly David Neal’s appointment was terminated after he ‘lost the confidence’ of Home Secretary James Cleverly (Jeff Moore/PA)

Labour branded the move “total Tory chaos on borders and immigrations”.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We have terminated the appointment of David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, after he breached the terms of appointment and lost the confidence of the Home Secretary.

“The planned recruitment process for the next Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration is in progress.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said a series of Conservative home secretaries have “sought to bury uncomfortable truths revealed by the chief inspector about our broken borders, and shockingly they are still sitting on 15 unpublished reports – stretching back to April last year”, adding: “The Home Secretary must now publish those reports in full.

“The Conservatives have lost control of our borders, are seeking to hide the truth, and are putting border security at risk.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said it was a “desperate move from a Conservative government terrified of proper scrutiny of their record of failure on borders and immigration”.

Mr Neal, whose tenure was due to end on March 21, said it was too soon to comment on the decision when contacted by the PA news agency.

Earlier, immigration minister Tom Pursglove told the Commons the Home Office “categorically rejects” claims high-risk flights landed in the UK without security checks.

Mr Pursglove disputed warnings made by Mr Neal, who the Daily Mail reported had received Home Office data showing UK Border Force failed to check the occupants of hundreds of private jets arriving at London City airport.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper raised the issue in Parliament
Yvette Cooper Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper raised the issue in Parliament (Maja Smiejkowska/PA)

Ms Cooper said ministers had been “repeatedly warned about border security risks on private flights”, telling MPs: “The Prime Minister may just think it’s all his own mates, but there are real risks from organised crime, money laundering, drugs, weapons smuggling, trafficking and even terrorism.”

Mr Pursglove insisted Border Force performed “checks on 100% of scheduled passengers arriving in the UK and risk-based intelligence-led checks on general aviation”, adding: “It’s deeply disturbing that information which has no basis in fact was leaked by the independent chief inspector to a national newspaper before the Home Office had the chance to respond.

“We are urgently investigating this breach of confidential information in full in the normal way.”

He said Mr Neal’s report was submitted to the Home Office last week and underwent fact checking as was “standard practice”, adding: “Mr Neal was made aware of a specific issue in the recording of data at London City airport which meant that a large proportion of flights recorded as high-risk should have been reclassified as low-risk, and it’s disappointing that he’s chosen to put misleading data into the public domain.”

The appointment of Mr Neal – a consultancy director with a military background who was hired by former home secretary Priti Patel in March 2021 – initially prompted concerns from MPs sitting on the Commons Home Affairs Committee, including then-chairwoman Ms Cooper, that he may fail to hold the Home Office to account.

Mr Neal was hired by former home secretary Priti Patel in March 2021
Dame Priti Patel Mr Neal was hired by former home secretary Priti Patel in March 2021

But since then, the committee has said they have been “impressed” with his work.

Mr Neal’s departure from the role comes in the wake of a series of critical inspection findings where he frequently took the department to task over its performance in the areas he inspected.

At the time of his appointment, Ms Patel described him as a “strong and appointable candidate, evidencing all the essential requirements of the role”, including a “willingness to provide constructive challenge”.

During his tenure, Mr Neal has repeatedly raised concerns that the department was too slow to publish his reports and has questioned why his three-year contract was not renewed for a second term, as was customary with his predecessors.

Earlier this week, he reportedly branded it “scandalous” that his role could be left vacant for between six and nine months while a successor was appointed – during which time the Government was trying to get Rwanda flights off the ground, meaning there would be no independent scrutiny of the deportation plan.

Mr Neal warned, in June last year, that the Manston migrant processing centre in Kent could return to ‘unacceptable conditions’ of overcrowding
The Manston migrant processing centre Mr Neal warned, in June last year, that the Manston migrant processing centre in Kent could return to ‘unacceptable conditions’ of overcrowding

He also previously expressed concerns that boredom may affect the mental health of migrants living at RAF Wethersfield, in Essex, which could lead to violence. The Home Office said it “disagreed” with his assessment.

The comments came ahead of plans he had to scrutinise conditions on the Bibby Stockholm barge, housing asylum seekers in Portland, Dorset.

In September last year, Mr Neal warned that pay grievances put Border Force staff at heightened risk of corruption.

While a few months earlier, in June, he said there was “no single version of the truth” in the Home Office when it came to removing foreign criminals from the UK.

That same month, he warned of a “very real danger” that Manston migrant processing centre in Kent could return to “unacceptable conditions” of overcrowding, having previously told MPs he was left “speechless” by the “wretched” conditions at the site during an earlier visit.

The Home Office has come under fire over delays in publishing reports submitted by Mr Neal and his predecessors on several occasions
The Home Office The Home Office has come under fire over delays in publishing reports submitted by Mr Neal and his predecessors on several occasions (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)

When ex-home secretary Suella Braverman was accused of backsliding on reforms designed to prevent another Windrush scandal, Mr Neal said it was a “missed opportunity” not to adopt one of the recommendations to increase his powers.

In the past he has also accused the Home Office of failing to protect vulnerable migrants held in detention centres and branded asylum backlogs “inexcusably high”.

In damning findings published in 2022, he described the department’s response to the surge in Channel crossings as “poor” and the system “overwhelmed”.

The Home Office has come under fire over delays in publishing reports submitted by Mr Neal and his predecessors on several occasions, with Mr Neal at one point saying he was “increasingly frustrated” that the department had been sitting on his findings for months. He suggested concerns from officials about the “tone” of some of his remarks could be partly behind this.