Immigration watchdog sacked over claims about border failings

Home Office says James Cleverly lost confidence in independent inspector David Neal
David Neal. Photo: GOV.UK

By Tevye Markson

21 Feb 2024

The home secretary has sacked immigration watchdog David Neal after he leaked to the press concerns about a security threat “scandal".

The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration warned in an interview with the Daily Mail on Monday that hundreds of high-risk flights were landing in the UK without being checked by border security. The Home Office then launched an investigation into the leak, accusing Neal of putting “misleading data into the public domain”.

He was fired on Wednesday because he "breached the terms of appointment and lost the confidence of the home secretary", a Home Office spokesperson said.

In response, Neal said he had released the information because there was a “strong public interest” in doing so and because the Home Office was not publishing his reports.

The borders watchdog has submitted 14 reports to the Home Office since April which have not yet been published by the department.

Neal told the Times: “I’ve spent all my working life protecting this country, I’ve identified a security failing and I’ve brought it back to the Home Office. There’s a strong public interest here and that’s why I’ve done what I’ve done. The border is there to keep us safe, it’s critical that there are clear auditable risk decisions made to protect every one of us in the country.

“This is not something I’ve done lightly. But I’ve been forced into this because my reports aren’t being published.”

Neal released data to the Daily Mail on Monday which he said showed the UK Border Force had failed to check passengers on hundreds of “high-risk” private jet flights arriving at City Airport. He said, of 687 flights categorised as “high-risk”, only 144 were checked by border security. Neal said this meant criminals, illegal immigrants, trafficking victims and extremists could have entered the UK without having their documentation checked.  Neal said this was a "scandal, and incredibly dangerous for this country's border security" and called for a rapid independent inspection of general aviation across the country.

The Home Office rejected the figures, saying City Airport had wrongly classified many low-risk flights as high-risk. It accused Neal of putting “misleading data into the public domain” and launched an investigation into the leak.

Neal also disclosed findings from an inspection of caseworker visas to The Times on Monday. He said the inspection had found the Home Office had issued 275 visas to a non-existent care home and 1,234 to a company that stated it had only four staff.

He also warned on Monday that it would be "scandalous" for the ICIBI role to be left vacant at a time when the government is "expected to implement one of the most controversial immigration policies of this era with the Rwanda policy" amid reports his term would not be renewed.

Neal’s three-year spell in the role was due to end in just one month, on 21 March. His two predecessors were both reappointed for second terms.

A Home Office spokesperson 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.”

The Home Office has insisted it is committed to publishing Neal's reports but has not given a timeframe for doing so.


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