Theresa May's statements are "wrong", says Brodie Clark

Head of the UK Border Agency resigns, with a stinging attack on the Home Secretary.

Brodie Clark, the head of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has quit over the relaxed passport check row, accusing Theresa May of misleading the public. He says that he plans to lodge a claim for constructive dismissal.

Suspended from his job last week, he faced the prospect of disciplinary action and even the possibility of criminal charges. Making it very clear she had no intention of resigning herself, the Home Secretary said "Brodie Clarke must take responsibility for his actions".

In a strongly worded statement, Clark said:

Those statements are wrong and were made without the benefit of hearing my response to formal allegations. With the Home Secretary announcing and repeating her view that I am at fault, I cannot see how any process conducted by the Home Office or under its auspices, can be fair and balanced.

He added that he had full authority for all the actions he had taken, disputing May's account that officials acted without her authorisation:

The Home Secretary suggests that I added additional measures, improperly, to the trial of our risk-based controls. I did not. Those measures have been in place since 2008-09.

The Home Secretary also implies that I relaxed the controls in favour of queue management. I did not. Despite pressure to reduce queues, including from ministers, I can never be accused of compromising security for convenience.

Queues at Heathrow this summer regularly lasted in excess of three hours, but dsepite this, Clark said "I never once contemplated cutting our essential controls to ease the flow."

On one point, Clark and May are agreed -- and that is on the efficacy of risk-based checks. Appearing before MPs on Monday, May insisted that intelligence-led checks had actually boosted interceptions of illegal migrants by 10 per cent. She claimed the problem came when Clark went too far by relaxing checks on passengers coming from outside Europe. Clark, pointing out he had been arguing for such schemes since December 2010, said:

The evidence to support [intelligence-led checks] is substantial and the early findings are encouraging. I would do nothing to jeopardise them. I firmly believe that a more fully risk-based way of operating will offer far greater protection to the United Kingdom.

As I argued yesterday, an effective system must operate with varying degrees of stringency. It will be a shame if moves in that direction are halted because of a knee jerk reaction to this row.

It was never certain that May would be able to ride out the storm, and Clark's decision to speak out shows that he is not willing to be scapegoated. He will now appear on Tuesday before the Commons home affairs select committee. Keith Vaz, the Labour head of the select committee, told the BBC: "It's completely contradictory to what she said. This is a complete turnaround of events." May remains defiant; it will be up to the committee to determine whose account is accurate.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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