Government promises to publish delayed reports after border watchdog sacked

The Government has promised to publish the 15 reports prepared by the sacked borders and immigration watchdog, but did not set a deadline for doing so.

David Neal was fired on Tuesday after he “breached” the terms of his appointment and “lost the confidence of the Home Secretary”.

It is understood he was delivered the news by a senior civil servant over Zoom.

The Home Office had previously been criticised for delays in publishing reports submitted by Mr Neal and his predecessors, with 15 reports dating back to April 2023 still unpublished when he was dismissed.

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
David Neal was sacked as chief inspector of borders and immigration after he ‘breached’ the terms of his appointment (ICIBI Corporate Services/PA)

In a written statement to Parliament on Wednesday, Home Secretary James Cleverly said his department was “committed to publishing the reports” submitted by Mr Neal and would “provide responses in due course”.

Labour branded the move “total Tory chaos on borders and immigrations”.

Mr Neal issued a staunch defence in the wake of his dismissal, telling 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.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said a series of Conservative home secretaries have “sought to bury uncomfortable truths revealed by the chief inspector about our broken borders, and shockingly they are still sitting on 15 unpublished reports – stretching back to April last year”, adding: “The Home Secretary must now publish those reports in full.

“The Conservatives have lost control of our borders, are seeking to hide the truth, and are putting border security at risk.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said it was a “desperate move from a Conservative government terrified of proper scrutiny of their record of failure on borders and immigration”.

Earlier on Tuesday, immigration minister Tom Pursglove told the Commons the Home Office “categorically rejects” claims high-risk flights landed in the UK without security checks.

Mr Pursglove disputed warnings made by Mr Neal, whom the Daily Mail reported had received Home Office data showing UK Border Force failed to check the occupants of hundreds of private jets arriving at London City airport.

He insisted Border Force performed “checks on 100% of scheduled passengers arriving in the UK and risk-based intelligence-led checks on general aviation”,

But he appeared to confirm one of Mr Neal’s reported concerns, that not all of the checks were being carried out in person.

Mr Pursglove added: “It’s deeply disturbing that information which has no basis in fact was leaked by the independent chief inspector to a national newspaper before the Home Office had the chance to respond.

“We are urgently investigating this breach of confidential information in full in the normal way.”

Although the Home Office disputed the accuracy of the data provided to Mr Neal, the department has not provided alternative figures.

The Home Office in London
The Home Office disputed the accuracy of the data provided to Mr Neal (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Mr Neal’s departure from the role comes in the wake of a series of critical inspection findings where he frequently took the department to task over its performance in the areas he inspected.

During his tenure, Mr Neal has repeatedly raised concerns that the department was too slow to publish his reports and has questioned why his three-year contract was not renewed for a second term, as was customary with his predecessors.

Earlier this week, he reportedly branded it “scandalous” that his role could be left vacant for between six and nine months while a successor was appointed – during which time the Government was trying to get Rwanda flights off the ground, meaning there would be no independent scrutiny of the deportation plan.

The Home Secretary said the recruitment process for Mr Neal’s replacement was “in progress” and a new chief inspector of borders and immigration would be appointed after a “robust competition”.

Mr Neal is understood to have been due to give evidence to a Lords committee next week but it is now unclear whether the session will take place.