Travellers planning to head abroad at Christmas should “think carefully” about doing so because of the risk of “serious disruption” from Border Force strikes, Suella Baverman has warned.
The Home Secretary said families going abroad would find their plans “impacted” by eight days of strikes by Border Force members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS).
On Wednesday, the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) announced that its members in Border Force would strike for four days over Christmas, from Dec 23 to 26, and four days in the run-up to the New Year, from Dec 28 to 31.
The union will stage the action at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff airports, and also at Newhaven port.
The Government has put 600 military personnel and hundreds more civil servants on standby. They will be dispatched to airports to take over passport checks on inbound travellers.
But airports and airlines are braced for cancellations of up to 20 per cent of flights depending on the effectiveness of the Government’s contingency plans and the scale of the walk-out.
Ms Braverman told broadcasters the proposed walkouts were “very regrettable” and said people should “think carefully about their plans” amid fears of lengthy queues and flight delays.
“If they go ahead with those strikes, there will be undeniable, serious disruption caused to many thousands of people who have holiday plans,” said the Home Secretary.
“I really want to urge people who have got plans to travel abroad to think carefully about their plans, because they may well be impacted.
“Ultimately, I’m not willing to compromise on security at the border – that’s the number one priority. That may well have an adverse impact on convenience for people, frankly.”
Travel operators reported that Christmas holidaymakers had already started cancelling bookings because of the renewed uncertainty over travel.
Families with children under 12 are likely to be hardest hit as pre-teens are not allowed to use e-gates, which will remain open during the strikes.
The gates enable passengers to avoid manual Border Force checks and can be used by travellers from countries including the UK, EU, US, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea.
Lucy Moreton, the professional officer of the ISU union, which also represents Border Force officers, warned that bringing in under-trained military personnel to check passports could jeopardise border security.
“It will lead to a significant weakening of the borders. There will be people admitted who should not be. They will not have the training to recognise those who should be stopped and questioned,” she said.
While training for a Border Force officer involves six weeks in classroom followed by six weeks of mentoring, soldiers replacing them will spend four days in a classroom and only one day mentoring.
“They will make mistakes. People who should not gain entry will gain entry. Where there was previous action by the PCS, we got mistakes like Albanians being admitted as EU nationals because person wrongly believed it was part of the EU,” added Ms Moreton.
“People entered in breach of deportation orders because they have made mistakes, not recognised the warning signs on their computer system.”
A government source said: “Border Force’s number one priority is to keep our borders safe and secure, and we will never compromise on this. Border Force has undertaken extensive planning with ports and airports in anticipation of potential strike action.”