London welcomes the world — or so the Government says, as it boasts of the global links it imagines Britain will build after Brexit. Try flying here and you’d think otherwise.
Tourists getting off a long-haul flight exhausted, perhaps with children in tow, can be asked to stand for hours just to show their passports and get out of the airport.
Queues of two hours face some passengers: enough time to fly abroad or watch a World Cup match from start to finish or decide, if you are a foreign investor made to wait, that maybe Britain doesn’t want your business after all.
We can fix this and we should.
Today, as we report, British Airways has attacked the waits as “totally unacceptable”. Passengers, it says, often face “a sea of people” when they arrive at Heathrow. At Terminal 2 last month almost one in five non-EU citizens had to stand for more than the target time of under 45 minutes — and BA boss Alex Cruz points out that’s only going to get worse as the summer traffic hots up.
So what needs to be done?
First, ministers need to stop denying that there’s a problem. The Home Office, which oversees the UK Border Force, has long blamed everything from funding to late flights which unload all their passengers at once.
The truth is that the queues stem from bad policy. Recent Home Secretaries haven’t made cutting queues a priority. Perhaps that’s because they are whisked through the VIP lounge and their department has no direct incentive to have a regard for the economic impact of their approach.
Second, we need more immigration staff on duty. The slow shuffle past closed desks and automated gates which are switched off is unacceptable.
BA says Terminal 5’s 24 e-gates are never all open at once. Why? Huge amounts have been spent putting them in. Expanding the workforce might seem hard but the answer is to challenge the unions and bring in temporary summer staff to oversee gates and cut seasonal queues.
Airports should be run in the interests of passengers, not those who work in them.
Third, we should learn from other countries and allow more overseas visitors to use the quick electronic gates.
Australia is famous for its strict immigration rules but UK passport holders arriving in Sydney can use the gates. Why not Australians in London?
The US used to be infamous for immigration delays but technology and a focus on cutting delays means New York now beats London for a speedy arrival.
Fourth, we should realise that the UK’s global leadership is not guaranteed. If we shut ourselves off, some people will give up on coming here. Maybe that’s what some ministers want.
But it will hit our prosperity. And — by the way — if the system doesn’t work well now, just how is it supposed to function after Brexit?
New balls, please
There’s more to this summer than football. There’s tennis, for a start.
Today at the Queen’s Club Andy Murray will be stretching his stiff limbs with the aim of taking part in his first competitive match for almost a year and has everyone’s good wishes for Wimbledon.
But there’s a new generation of British players who are catching up: Johanna Konta blew her top at the Nature Valley Open final at Nottingham on Sunday but the point is that she was in the final.
The second-ranked man, Cameron Norrie, didn’t do as well but he’ll get another chance in SW19 next month.
And if you don’t like tennis, England’s one-day cricketers are leading Australia, Royal Ascot is starting (there are horses amid the hats) and the England rugby union team has to end its losing streak sometime soon.
If none of that appeals, then maybe just read a good book in the sun while the heatwave lasts.
Finsbury Park: a year on
A year ago today, Makram Ali died in the Finsbury Park attack, walking back from late-night prayers.
It was an effort to divide Londoners: instead, it brought people together.