The home secretary has appointed David Neal, a former army officer and security expert, as the next immigration watchdog, despite opposition from MPs who were concerned about his lack of experience and flaws in the recruitment process.
Neal will succeed David Bolt, who has been independent chief inspector of borders and immigration since 2015, on 21 March.
As ICIBI, Neal – now a strategic security adviser for Blackstone Security Consultancy – will be responsible for monitoring and reporting on the work of the Home Office, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the UK’s border and immigration functions.
Priti Patel had indicated she planned to press ahead with the appointment of her preferred candidate for the role after the Home Affairs Select Committee said “weaknesses” in the recruitment process meant they could not endorse the pick.
HASC said last month that Neal had been “placed in an unfair and difficult position by a recruitment process which we believe was insufficiently robust”.
The recruitment process was an open one, but the MPs said it did not effectively assess whether he had some of the skills to do the job – namely whether he could withstand parliamentary and public scrutiny and provide public challenge to the Home Office.
The committee was especially concerned that Neal had no experience in or knowledge of some immigration or borders issues that the role would cover.
The MPs said they had been "only partially persuaded" by Neal’s responses to some of their questions in his pre-appointment hearing. These areas "should have been more effectively tested earlier in the process to assess his suitability for the role", they said.
Responding to HASC's concerns last month, Patel said: "It is clear to me that Mr Neal has all the necessary qualities to not only fulfil this role, but to make a huge success of it. I very much look forward to a constructive working relationship with him, as we both share a strong desire to improve the borders, immigration and citizenship system."
In a statement yesterday, the home secretary congratulated Neal and stressed that the appointment had followed a "rigorous recruitment process in line with the governance code on public appointments".
Neal said he was "delighted to return to public service in such an important and high-profile role in an area which affects us all".
"I am honoured that the home secretary has appointed me as chief inspector, a role that is vital in monitoring and reporting on the efficiency and effectiveness of our country’s border and immigration functions," he said.
"I look forward to leading the team and continuing to deliver a comprehensive and high-quality inspection programme."