Know your enemy and know thyself

That was one of the many quotes from Sun Tzu (The Art of War). It is still used as a bible by the military all over the world. We too can learn from it.

Pre 1993 everybody knew where they stood, including Customs. You had an allowance when bringing goods back into UK and it was written in stone. Customs enforced it and nobody could argue with it because it was fair. Then on 1st January 1993 everything changed because we now had the EU Single Market establishing the free movement of goods, people, services and capital.

Customs or HMCE as they were known then, quickly became the tool of politicians and that has continued to this day ... with a catalogue of disasters. The problem was, and continues to be, the extortionate Excise Duty on tobacco and alcohol in the UK when compared to mainland EU. lt would have been prudent to reduce our Excise Duty to be inline with mainland EU as many experts advised. Certainly HMCE would have been happy with this but sadly our politicians were not. The Conservatives were in decline at that time and their politicians were fighting for their seats in Parliament so to propose a reduction in Excise Duty was the last thing on their mind.

Then came Labour in 1997 and they systematically destroyed what HMCE were. By far the largest disaster was the policy brought in by the then Secretary to the Treasury, Paul Boateng. This was called Operation Maximum Disruption and this policy forced on HMCE which resulted in seizures of excise goods for any reason and often no reason at all. Car seizures alone were over 10,000 per year. This policy was specifically aimed at cross-border shoppers to intimidate them into not buying excise goods from the EU.

To be fair to HMCE, they did fight tooth and nail against the implementation of this policy but it was neverless forced upon them. HMCE had argued that this policy would be counter-productive because they would lose the 'intelligence' that they got from the public. They were indeed correct, the 'intelligence' dried up and has never come back. Operation Maximum Disruption hit the very people that HMCE depended on for 'intelligence' ... the legitimate cross-border shopper. The legitimate cross-border shopper remains a target to this day.

Labour then went further and HMCE were disastrously amalgamated with the Inland Revenue in 2005 to become HMRC. 

Then Labour created the Border Immigration Agency in 2007 ... another cockup that lasted but a year. They then compounded the cockup by creating the UKBA in 2008. This new agency comprised of the staff of Border Immigration Agency and the staff of HMRC responsible for border control. l think it is no coincidence that both these changes in 2007 and 2008 came in on April 1st  ... April Fools Day!

Then along came this coalition government and despite all the promises it's hard to believe Labour are still not the government. Nothing changed except for it getting worse.

On 1st March this year the UKBA were split up to form the Border Force and the UKBA. Is there any wonder our border policy is such a mess?

HMCE were professional and tried to maintain high standards. Now we have the Border Agency where you can become a border officer in 9 weeks! Well, in reality 5 weeks as it is 5 weeks training and then another 4 weeks operating the borders under supervision!!! No wonder long serving customs officers have left in their thousands for early retirement. As with PCSOs ... we now have many 'plastic' border officers (Customs) .. the long serving Customs officers must hang their heads in despair.

End of Part 1. 

Part 2 to follow 'know thyself'.


  1. It continues to surprise me that there has been no proposal (yet) to contract the whole business out to G4S.

    The Government definitely want the cross-border shopper to be intimidated and discouraged, but they can't keep defying EU law indefinitely. It would be easier for them if they could blame a contractor. (Slap on the wrist, and carry on.)

    Maybe this trail of organisational disasters is part of the softening-up process, before the privatisation of Border Control?

    1. Give it time mate, they are just trying to figure out how the can justify/make money from it (the gubinment not G4S).
      They also still have to get it past the unions, which may be a bit of a sticking point.

  2. I can't wait for part 2.
    John Gibson


"In the eyes of the Tribunal the review letter contained several preconceptions, prejudgments and non-sequiturs"

"the absurdity of this reason is demonstrated by simply stating it"

"We therefore find that Mr Sked misdirected himself as to the Policy in carrying out the review and his decision is therefore one that no reasonable review officer could have arrived at."

... commonly known here at N2D as 'Skeds' ... that is to say these are Judges comments regarding UKBA Review Officer Ian Sked's reasons for rejecting peoples appeals against seizures.

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