The Conservatives have vowed to “strengthen” the UK’s borders after Brexit as they seek to position themselves as the party of law and order in the upcoming general election.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, has pledged to introduce an “Electronic Travel Authorisation” system for all non-visa nationals, along the lines of the US ESTA visa-waiver entry permit.
The plans — which were first laid out in the government’s 2018 immigration white paper — would force all visitors to fill out an online application before being permitted entry to the UK.
The party said the programme would “strengthen our ability to identify and block the entry of those who present a threat to the UK”. It added that as the technology became available, it would also mandate “a biometrics requirement for all ETAs”.
Citizens of all EU countries are currently allowed to enter Britain as long as they have a passport or identity card from their home country. If elected, the Tories said ID cards would no longer be deemed proof of identity as they are “notoriously easy to fake”.
Ms Patel claimed on Sunday that EU laws on freedom of movement had allowed dangerous criminals to come into Britain from other European countries but that this would end after Brexit.
“When people voted to leave in 2016 they were voting to take back control of our borders,” she said. “After Brexit we will introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system and take steps to strengthen our border and improve the security of the UK.”
But Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, responded that Conservative claims to be strengthening the border via Brexit were groundless. “By quitting the entire system of EU security and justice, we will no longer have real-time access to a host of critical databases or access to the European Arrest Warrant,” she said.
“This will undermine the ability of our police and border agencies to apprehend terrorists and organised criminals, and could even make us a safe haven for fugitives fleeing the justice systems in the EU.”
The Conservatives have also vowed to introduce mandated pre-arrival declarations for all consignments coming into the UK from the EU. The “specifics of these requirements will be finalised” as it negotiates free-trade deals with the rest of the world.
The collection of pre-arrival goods data would “stop smuggling” and reduce £5bn-worth of “revenue leakage”, according to the Conservatives.
About 53 per cent of British imports currently come from the EU, meaning they do not require tracking or checks because they arrive through the single market and customs union. But under party leader Boris Johnson’s plans, Brexit would see the UK’s departure from both entities.
In its manifesto, unveiled last Sunday, Mr Johnson said his aim was to have 80 per cent of UK trade covered by free-trade agreements within the next three years. The party suggests this would be done in parallel with EU talks.
Border Force, the UK government agency that runs customs and immigration checks, has seen its annual funding from central government slashed by 10 per cent over the past six years. The party has said it will spend £20m on improving security and recruiting additional staff.