Sacked UK borders inspector tells MPs he was removed ‘for doing his job’

<span>David Neal was fired last week as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration.</span><span>Photograph: House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA</span>
David Neal was fired last week as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration.Photograph: House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA

The UK’s sacked borders inspector has told MPs he was removed “for doing his job”, as refugee charities told the home secretary that the sacking of David Neal had left the asylum system at risk.

Neal, who was fired last week as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, told a parliamentary committee of “shocking leadership” at the top of the Home Office.

He also claimed No 10 had blocked his reappointment before he was dismissed during a Microsoft Teams video call.

In a letter seen by the Guardian, more than 40 refugee charities have told James Cleverly that a failure to appoint a new borders watchdog “creates a vacuum” of independent oversight.

Neal was removed amid complaints that the Home Office was delaying the publication of 15 of his inspectorate’s reports.

Told of Neal’s criticisms, Cleverly defended the the Home Office. He said: “I made it absolutely clear that David was to be contacted directly. That is what I instructed and that is what happened.

“I’ve not had a chance to listen to exactly what he said. I’m not going to try and comment on things that I haven’t heard directly.

“It was disappointing the sequence of events that led to me asking him to stand down but we have remained professional throughout this process.”

A Home Office statement said Neal was sacked for breaching his contract after speaking to the Daily Mail about concerns over airport security.

At a hearing of the home affairs select committee, Neal said he had a duty to speak out, which was in line with his responsibilities as the borders watchdog.

“I’ve been sacked for doing my job. I think I’ve been sacked for doing what the law asks of me and I’ve breached, I’ve fallen down over a clause in my employment contract, which I think is a crying shame.”

His tenure as the independent borders watchdog was due to end on 21 March and he claimed No 10 had blocked his reappointment before he was ultimately fired.

“I now know that the Home Office, so the ministers, supported my reappointment, my extension, my reappointment. And the home secretary supported my reappointment.

“That reappointment process was sent to the Cabinet Office and that was sent on to No 10 and it was turned down by No 10. So, I’ve no idea why it was turned down by No 10.”

No 10’s role emerged as part of a judicial review about the management of Manston migrant processing centre in 2022, he said.

As first disclosed in the Guardian, Neal said he was sacked in a video conference call by a senior civil servant.

“Worse than that, for my high-performing team of 30 civil servants, the notification that I was sacked was in the media before my team or I had had the chance to speak to them, which is just shocking. Shocking leadership.”

Neal, who was responsible for the assurance and inspection of the UK’s detention facilities while in the armed forces, said the advice to his successor when they are eventually appointed would be “don’t press the nuclear button too early”.

He added: “There is a role in public life, for sure, for people who speak truth to power.”

More than 40 refugee charities including Freedom from Torture and the Refugee Council have written to Cleverly expressing their concern at Neal’s sacking and how it will affect the asylum system.

“Vital inspections” into asylum accommodation including the Bibby Stockholm barge and the RAF Wethersfield site, as well as a report into the handling of modern slavery and human trafficking claims, cannot be submitted without an inspector, they said.

“Effectively disabling independent scrutiny of a highly controversial policy area constitutes yet another step towards the erosion of government accountability, and follows close behind similar moves to weaken judicial oversight and limit people’s power to protest. Such actions fundamentally undermine our democratic society,” the letter says.

Home Office sources have said it could take up to nine months to hire a new inspector at a time when the government hopes to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.