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Opinion: Decision to carry out biosecurity border checks 22 miles inland at Sevington has led to political shenanigans, writes Paul Francis

If you were looking for a measure of how the UK is faring outside the EU post-Brexit, last week’s ‘news’ that after five postponements, bio-security checks on food products coming through the Channel ports was finally going to happen is a decent place to start.

Decent may be the wrong word to capture the political shenanigans around this major announcement but it’ll have to do.

Paul Francis gives his view on the latest in politics
Paul Francis gives his view on the latest in politics

In this case, backbench MPs were flexing their muscles over what they saw as deficiencies in the new checks regime. And the chief one of these was the decision to use the Sevington site at Ashford, 22 miles inland.

Why not the unit that had been initially allocated in Dover, a mere zero miles away?

That would have been far too complicated. Why put importers coming over the Channel on a road to a site which in all probability might well be bypassed by some - especially given that it is the one under lock and key with state-of-the-art tools and equipment to do what was needed.

For MPs, this was rather perplexing and a little irritating. The general feeling was that this needed some careful disentangling, so in the best - or maybe worst - traditions of Parliament, they set about picking holes in each other’s arguments.

It led the chairman of the select committee to write to the health secretary asking for “a clear and unambiguous explanation by the Department as to how import checks will be rolled out from 30 April”.

He got a reply, which was extremely polite but also declared the government had never said anything about all lorries and vans being rolled out at the same time.

Concerns were expressed so many times in the correspondence that it became virtually impossible to get to the ones that were genuinely concerning and those that were mildly worrying.

No doubt someone will point out that with so many postponements, there was another concern: staff who had been allocated work on the checks had to be given other things to do while a solution was found.

The Sevington Inland Border Facility at Ashford. Picture: Chris Davey
The Sevington Inland Border Facility at Ashford. Picture: Chris Davey

• One of the more unusual strategies to combat migrants trying to reach the UK involved the Home Office paying Albanian influencers to go on TikTok to dissuade fellow citizens from crossing the Channel.

The initiative to target migrants in conflict-free countries, particularly young working-age men and their families, seems to have been successful.

And the costs? The campaign was replicated for a similar problem with Vietnamese migrants and figures released to us under Freedom of Information legislation show together a total of £494,179.44 was spent from 1 April 2022 to 1 April 2024 on advertising campaigns.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “These are powerful campaigns which demonstrate first-hand that life for people arriving here illegally is a far cry from the lies they have been sold by the gangs on the other side of the Channel.

"Last year, our campaign contributed to a 90% reduction in small boat arrivals from Albania, and overall numbers are down by a third, but there is more to do.

“Expanding this work to Vietnam, another key partner in our work to tackle illegal migration, will help us to save more lives and dent the business model of the criminals who profit from this vile trade."

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