The U.K. Home Office has “no idea” what its £400m-a-year immigration enforcement unit achieves, meaning it is unprepared for Brexit, according to a report by the cross-party Public Accounts Committee.
The Committee says that despite years of public and political debate and concern, the Department still does not know the size of the illegal population in the U.K., nor does it know what harm the illegal population causes.
According to the report, the Home Office has not estimated the illegal population in the U.K. since 2005. It had no answer to the Committee’s concerns that potentially exaggerated figures calculated by unofficial sources could inflame hostility towards immigrants.
In 2019, 62% of immigration detainees were released from detention because the Department could not return them as planned to their country of origin – up from 58% the year before. The Department doesn’t know why this figure is so high, or what it can do to ensure these returns are completed as planned.
The Committee finds that the Home Office is unprepared for the challenges the U.K.’s exit from the EU presents to its immigration enforcement operations. In evidence to the Committee in mid-July the Home Office could provide no evidence that it had even begun discussions with the EU partners it relies on to support its international operations, including the return of foreign national offenders and illegal migrants.
Ultimately, the Committee is not convinced that the Department is sufficiently prepared to properly safeguard the existing, legal immigrant population in the U.K., while also implementing a new immigration system and managing its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meg Hillier, Member of Parliament and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “The Home Office has frighteningly little grasp of the impact of its activities in managing immigration. It shows no inclination to learn from its numerous mistakes across a swathe of immigration activities – even when it fully accepts that it has made serious errors.
“15 years after the then Home Secretary declared the UK’s immigration system “not fit for purpose” it is time for transformation of the Immigration Enforcement into a data-led organization. Within six months of this report we expect a detailed plan, with set priorities and deadlines, for how the Home Office is going to make this transformation.”