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British minister says relaxed border controls did not put nation's security at risk
LONDON (AP) ' British Home Secretary Theresa May, under increasing pressure because of an unapproved relaxation of border controls, said Tuesday the changes had not endangered national security.
May is on the defensive because the U.K. Border Agency this summer eased controls on people entering the country, going far beyond rules May said she had set out in a pilot program designed to shorten lines at British air and sea ports.
She told lawmakers she would not resign and blamed Border Agency officials for taking unilateral, unauthorized steps that made it easier for people to enter Britain without proper identity checks.
She admitted it was impossible to know how many people entered Britain without adequate checks but asserted the practice "did not in any way put border security at risk."
Opposition lawmakers have said the program jeopardized Britain's safety and made it easier for suspected terrorists to enter the country.
May had approved a trial program under which border guards would ditch some passport checks, either to allow them to prioritize resources on specific flights which might be carrying illegal immigrants or terrorism suspects, or to cut long lines at immigration halls. She insisted that officials flouted the terms of the trial and routinely failed to carry out the correct passenger checks.
May insisted the fault lay with the border agency and said she had long known about problems at the agency. She promised improvements in the coming years.
"The UKBA of today will not be the UKBA of tomorrow," she said, admitting it had been plagued by systematic problems.
Three government officials, including border agency chief Brodie Clark, have been suspended amid an investigation into allegations about widespread failures to inspect biometric passports, or to match adults against lists of possible terrorism suspects or immigration registers.
Clark's union accused the government of making him a scapegoat.
"It is astonishing that the home secretary has chosen to compound the prejudice to Mr. Clark by declaring him guilty before he has had a chance of responding in any formal process," said Paul Whiteman of the FDA union.
Prime Minister David Cameron said the border agency's behavior had been unacceptable.
"It has been stopped, the person responsible has been suspended," Cameron said. "But clearly this is not acceptable. It is not acceptable that it went on for so long."