Border Force
Racing stripe
Agency overview
Formed1 March 2012; 12 years ago (2012-03-01)
Preceding agency
Jurisdictional structure
National agency
(Operations jurisdiction)
United Kingdom
Operations jurisdictionUnited Kingdom
Legal jurisdictionUnited Kingdom
Specialist jurisdiction
  • National border patrol, security, and integrity.
Operational structure
Overseen byIndependent Office for Police Conduct/His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services/ Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration
Minister responsible
Agency executive
  • Phil Douglas,
    Director General / Steve Dann - Chief Operating Officer
Parent agencyHome Office

Border Force (BF) is a British law enforcement command within the Home Office,[1] responsible for frontline border control operations at air, sea and rail ports in the United Kingdom. The force was part of the now defunct UK Border Agency from its establishment in 2008 until Home Secretary Theresa May demerged it in March 2012 after severe criticism of the senior management.[2]

Border Force was formed on 1 March 2012, becoming accountable directly to ministers. It is responsible for immigration and customs controls and the screening of passengers, freight and port staff at 140 rail, air and sea ports in the UK and western Europe, as well as thousands of smaller airstrips, ports and marinas.[3] The work of the Border Force is monitored by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

Border Force officers can hold the powers of both customs officers and immigration officers.[4] Their duties also include counter-terrorism, part of which is to detect and deter the illicit importation of radioactive and nuclear material by terrorists or criminals.

Aside from powers listed below in relation to immigration and customs, section 2 of the Borders Act 2007 also allows designated officers of the Border Force to detain anyone for any criminal offence or arrest warrant at a port if the Border Officer thinks they would be liable to arrest by a police constable. The power allows detention for three hours pending the arrival of a police constable. The power also applies to points of entry in Belgium and France where Border Officers work, whereby the Border Officer will turn the detained person over to Belgian or French police officers as appropriate.[5]


Background and establishment

Prior to 2007 three agencies were responsible for border control in the UK:

As early as 2003, a single "border police force" had been proposed.[6]

In 2005, HMCE and Inland Revenue merged to form HMRC, however HMRC was still responsible for customs control at the border until 2009. Throughout 2006 and 2007 there were suggestions for a merged border control department.[7]

Initially this plan was to turn the Immigration and Nationality Directorate into a uniformed body of Immigration officers at the border, the Border and Immigration Agency. The BIA was created on 1 April 2007. It was short lived and was replaced only a year later on 1 April 2008 by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). The UK Border Agency was a merger of the Border and Immigration Agency (BIA), UKvisas and the port customs functions of HM Revenue and Customs. It created one of the largest law enforcement bodies in the UK.

On 5 November 2011, following various failings of the UKBA, then-Home Secretary Theresa May that an independent inquiry would also be undertaken, led by the Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency John Vine.[8] UK Border Force became a separate organisation on 1 March 2012.[9]

After establishment

The first Director General of Border Force was the former Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police Brian Moore, who was appointed on secondment on an interim basis to last until 31 August 2012 and was expected to apply for the position permanently, despite criticism of his management of passport queues.[10] On 10 July 2012, Immigration Minister Damian Green confirmed that Moore had not applied for the post, despite Moore earlier telling the Home Affairs Select Committee that he would be applying.

Tony Smith was appointed as interim Director General of Border Force on 19 September 2012.[11] Smith was previously Gold Commander for the London 2012 Olympic Programme and Regional Director for London and the South East in the UK Border Agency and has spent forty years in border control and enforcement work.

Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Montgomery was named as the new Director General on 25 January 2013.[12]

In June 2017 Montgomery left Border Force and Paul Lincoln (a civil servant from the MOD and Home office) was appointed as the new Director General.[13] Neither of the two had any previous experience of immigration or customs.


HMCPV 'Eagle' Border Force patrol vessel off Broadstairs, Kent, England

The stated responsibilities of the Home Office's Border Force are the following:[14][15]

Border Force is responsible for immigration and customs at 140 rail, air and sea ports in the UK and western Europe, as well as thousands of smaller airstrips, ports and marinas.

Organisation and operations

The Home Office buildings in Sheffield

Border Force has Six operational regions:

The regions have responsibility for securing the border 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at the UK’s ports, airports, postal depots and rail.

This includes the Eurostar from Brussels and Paris to St Pancras International and the Eurotunnel from Coquelles to Folkestone.

There are approximately 10,000 people who work in BF, according to the UK Government website.[16]

The regions’ varied work includes stopping 100 per cent of passengers arriving at ports, or airports, for immigration controls.

Officers also conduct risk-led interceptions for controlled drugs, cash, tobacco, alcohol, firearms, offensive weapons, prohibited goods, counterfeit goods and clandestine entrants.

They do this at passenger and freight controls, covering passengers travelling on foot, by car, coaches, freight vehicles, as well as air freight and sea containers.


A Border Force Mercedes Benz Sprinter van, based at an airport. Note the distinctive Home Office colour scheme. British police vehicles use blue and yellow colours.

Members of the BF are known as "Border Force officers" and are civil servants, part of HM's Civil Service.


Staff hold a mixture of powers granted to them by their status as immigration officers and designated customs officials. Border Force officers are civil servants.[17][18]

Immigration powers

Main article: Immigration officer

Immigration officers have powers of arrest and detention conferred on them by the Immigration Act 1971 and subsequent Immigration Acts, when both at ports and inland. In practice, non-arrest trained Border Force immigration officers exercise powers under Schedule 2 of the Immigration Act 1971, while inland immigration officers work under S28A-H of the Immigration Act 1971 and paragraph 17 of Schedule 2 of the same Act, as do arrest-trained Border Force immigration officers at the frontier.

Historically, port and inland immigration officers received different training to reflect these different approaches to immigration enforcement, which is now reinforced by inland officers working for Immigration Enforcement, a separate Home Office Command.

"Designated Immigration Officers" are Border Force immigration officers who have been designated with additional detention powers, under Sections 1 to 4 of the UK Borders Act 2007, where a person at a port or airport is suspected of being liable to arrest by a police officer for non-border offences.

Customs powers

Main article: Customs officer

Border Force officers, designated as customs officials under the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, have wide-ranging powers of entry, search, seizure and arrest. They hold the same customs and excise powers as officers of HM Revenue and Customs, but cannot use HMRC powers for non-border matters, such as Income Tax and VAT. Amongst their powers is the ability to arrest anyone who has committed, or whom the officer has reasonable grounds to suspect has committed, any offence under the Customs and Excise Acts. They may also seize prohibited and restricted goods, such as controlled drugs and firearms, as well as ensuring that imported goods bear the correct taxes and duties.[19]


Rank insignia

Border Force Epaulette Ranks

Uniformed Border Force officers have their rank displayed on shoulder epaulettes, attached to their shirt, jumper or jacket.

Warranted officers below Senior Officer rank may also have their identification number displayed.[21]

The rank and epaulette styling is in line with many other border agencies and shares close similarities with its Australian counterpart, the Australian Border Force.[citation needed]

BF Rank Epaulette Insignia Personal Number Displayed
Administrative Assistant (Civil Service Grade: AA) Plain[21] Yes
Assistant Officer (Civil Service Grade: AO) Single Chevron[21] Yes
Officer (Civil Service Grade: EO) Single Bath Star 'Pip'[21] Yes
Higher Officer (Civil Service Grade: HEO) 2 Bath Star 'Pips'[21] Yes
Senior Officer (Civil Service Grade: SEO) 3 Bath Star 'Pips'[21] No
Assistant Director (Civil Service Grade: Grade 7) St Edward's Crown[21] No
Deputy Director (Civil Service Grade: Grade 6) St Edward's Crown above a Single Bath Star 'Pip'[21] No
Director (Civil Service Grade: SCS1) Single Bath Star 'Pip' above a Laurel wrapped Wheel[21] No
Senior Director (Civil Service Grade: SCS2) St Edward's Crown above a Laurel wrapped Wheel[21] No
Director General (Civil Service Grade: SCS3) St Edward's Crown above 2 Bath Star 'Pips' above a Laurel wrapped Wheel[21] No

Uniform and equipment

Sir Charles Montgomery in uniform as Director General of the Border Force

All BF officers wear a dark blue uniform (without headgear) and have certain equipment to help them do their jobs.

BF officers always wear their rank and personal number on an epaulette (see above).

Officers carry batons, handcuffs, radios and may wear a stab vest, or equipment vest.[22]

Search dogs

BF have a dog unit and dog handlers. There is a training course called the Border Force Initial Detector Dog Handler training course. The BF uses dogs in the 'detector dog' way. [23]

Common travel area

A Border Force Patrol Vessel on patrol

Immigration control within the United Kingdom is managed within a wider Common Travel Area (CTA). The CTA is an intergovernmental agreement that allows freedom of movement within an area that encompasses the UK, Isle of Man, Channel Islands (Guernsey, Jersey, Sark and Alderney) and the Republic of Ireland. Authorised entry to any of the above essentially allows entry to all the others but it is the responsibility of the person entering to ensure that they are properly documented for entry to other parts of the CTA. Despite the CTA it is still possible to be deported from the UK to the Republic of Ireland and vice versa.

Juxtaposed controls

Main article: Juxtaposed controls

Entry to the UK via the Channel Tunnel from France, Belgium or the Netherlands, or by ferry from Calais and Dunkirk in France is controlled by juxtaposed immigration controls. Travellers clear UK passport control in France, Belgium or the Netherlands, while those travelling from the UK to France, Belgium or the Netherlands clear entry border checks to the Schengen Area while in the UK. Belgium and the Netherlands do not maintain controls in the UK as the first Schengen country entered is France. UK Border Force checkpoints in France are operated at the Port of Calais, the Port of Dunkirk, the Eurotunnel Calais Terminal, Calais-Fréthun station ( suspended in 2020), Lille Europe station and Paris Gare du Nord station. For passengers arriving by the Eurostar train from Marne-la-Vallée Chessy station, UK border control takes place at the arrival stations in the UK whereas French border controls take place at Marne-la-Vallée Chessy. A checkpoint operated at Boulogne-sur-Mer until the port closed in August 2010.

UK Border Force Checkpoints in Belgium operate at Brussels-South railway station.

UK Border Force checkpoints in the Netherlands operate from Amsterdam Centraal and Rotterdam Centraal stations. These began operating on 26 October 2020.[24]

United States border preclearance is an equivalent system operated by that country's equivalent to the UKBF at some airports outside the US.


Main article: List of Border Force cutters (UK)

All vessels of the Border Force bear the ship prefix "HMC"—His Majesty's Cutter. Between May and October 2015 two of the vessels, HMC Protector and HMC Seeker, were deployed in the Mediterranean conducting search and rescue operations. The Border Force also has a recently chartered vessel named MV VOS Grace.[25]

Ship Class Entered service Displacement Type Homeport Note
HMC Seeker UKBF 42m Customs Cutter 2001 257 tonnes Cutter
HMC Searcher UKBF 42m Customs Cutter 2002 257 tonnes Cutter
HMC Vigilant UKBF 42m Customs Cutter 2003 257 tonnes Cutter
HMC Valiant UKBF 42m Customs Cutter 2004 257 tonnes Cutter
HMC Protector Telkkä-class 2014 434 tonnes Cutter Portsmouth[26] [27]
HMC Active 20m RIB 2016 31 tonnes Coastal Patrol Vessel [28][29][30]
HMC Alert 20m RIB 2016 31 tonnes Coastal Patrol Vessel [28][29][30]
HMC Eagle 20m RIB 2016 31 tonnes Coastal Patrol Vessel [28][29][30]
HMC Nimrod 20m RIB 2016 31 tonnes Coastal Patrol Vessel [28][29][30]
HMC Hunter 20m RIB 2018 31 tonnes Coastal Patrol Vessel [31]
HMC Speedwell 20m RIB 2018 31 tonnes Coastal Patrol Vessel [31][32]

Attack on the Dover Immigration Centre

On 30 October 2022 the new Immigration Centre in Dover Harbour was attacked with firebombs thrown from a car.[33] Two members of staff were injured. A suspect was found dead in a vehicle and has been named as Andrew Leak, aged 66, from High Wycombe. Responsibility for investigation is now with Counter Terrorism Policing South East. [34]

Leak's online activities had included far-right content and conspiracy theories. [35] On 5 November 2022 the police stated that the attack "was motivated by a terrorist ideology".[36]

Notable operations and successes

See also


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  3. ^ "Home Secretary's statement on border security - Oral statements to Parliament - GOV.UK". 20 February 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  4. ^ "New Customs officers Oath - a Freedom of Information request to Home Office". WhatDoTheyKnow. 12 October 2015. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  5. ^ "UK Borders Act 2007". Expert Participation. Retrieved 26 November 2018.((cite web)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ "UK needs 'border security force'". 28 October 2003. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  7. ^ "Reid plans border-control force". 23 July 2006. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  8. ^ Chris Mason (5 November 2011). "Inquiry into border agency passport check claims". BBC. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
  9. ^ "Theresa May to split up UK Border Agency". BBC News. 20 February 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  10. ^ David Millward (22 May 2012). "Border Force chief faces battle to keep job over threat of four-hour immigration queues during Olympics". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  11. ^ Home Affairs Select Committee, 18 September 2012
  12. ^ "New Director General of Border Force announced". Home Office. 25 January 2013. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  13. ^ "New Director-General of Border Force appointed". Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  14. ^ "Inside government: Border Force". UK Government ( Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  15. ^ "About – Border Force". Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  16. ^ Force, Border. "Border Force - Do the Search". GOV UK. Retrieved 7 September 2022.
  17. ^ "Border Force drafts in agency staff for first time as no-deal Brexit looms". Civil Service World. 25 June 2020. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  18. ^ Dathan, Matt, ed. (6 January 2022). "Border Force officers could strike over 'turnback' plan for Channel migrant boats". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  19. ^ "Section 138, Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (c. 2)". Office of Public Sector Information. Archived from the original on 11 October 2010. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
  20. ^ "Phil Douglas".
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k [bare URL PDF]
  22. ^ This is Local, London (28 November 2020). "The Growing Significance of Border Force Throughout the Pandemic (Eden Hartley Tiffin Boys School)". This Is Local London. Retrieved 7 September 2022.
  23. ^ Force, Border. "Job: Border Force - South East & Europe - Heathrow - South Region - Dog Handler". Retrieved 7 September 2022.
  24. ^ "Eurostar to launch £40 Amsterdam to London trains". BBC News. 24 August 2020.
  25. ^ "Migration: Mediterranean Sea: Written question - 24322". Retrieved 4 August 2016.
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  41. ^ "Child sex doll an obscene item, judge rules". BBC News. 31 July 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
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