The Henry Jackson Society was delighted to start the week by welcoming Alexander Downer, former leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, the longest serving Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1996 – 2007, and High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 2014 to 2018.
Mr Downer discussed his report, commissioned by the then Home Secretary, Priti Patel, on the state of the UK Border Force. While with us, Mr Downer reiterated some of the key points of his finding, chiefly the need for a dedicated minister in the Home Office to manage the Border Force, the importance of cooperation between the Force and private businesses that operate freight and passenger services in aligning staffing rosters and transport arrival times, and the reliability and importance of high-tech systems that expedite the registration process upon arrival in the UK.
Our event coincided with the news of a new leader of the Conservative Party and Mr Downer offered his thoughts on the challenges Liz Truss is expected to face with the Border Force. He expressed strong support for biometric data gathering of asylum seekers to the UK and pointed out that as a foreign national settled in the UK, he had to undergo the same procedure. Mr Downer also expressed his support for a policy of offshore processing for illegal arrivals, a policy that was introduced in Australia in 2012. Australian illegal arrivals are sent to Papua New Guinea. In Mr Downer’s words, it stops the illegal arrivals by breaking the business structure of the organised gangs that operate smuggling routes, as they do not deliver on the expensive service they offer.
The announcements of ministerial appointments of the 6th of September are yet to reflect the recommendations of Mr Downer on a dedicated ministerial role to deal with the Border Force. However, with the Prime Minister previously serving as a member of the Cabinet for three former holders of her current role, it is likely that the pursuit of an offshore processing policy will continue.