Autumn budget: UK to overhaul airport checks and boost NHS spending

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will put £628m into digitising Britain's border security

Britain will overhaul its immigration checks at airports in a £628 million ($865m) plan set to be unveiled as part of Chancellor Rishi Sunak's autumn budget this week.

The money will be spent on “modernising and digitalising the border”, with tourists needing a US-style Electronic Travel Authorisation to enter the UK.

The system is expected to start in 2023 and will allow authorities to screen foreign visitors before they arrive at UK airports.

Mr Sunak will spend another £74m on upgrading the ageing vessels that are used to intercept migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.

The current fleet is 20 years old and will be replaced by 11 new vessels to tackle organised crime and illegal immigration, which the government has promised to curb.

Mr Sunak said: “Protecting our borders and making it easier for us all to travel to and from our great nation is at the heart of our ambitions as a government.”

The border revamp is among a series of spending promises that have been trailed before Mr Sunak presents the budget on Wednesday. Another £6 billion will go towards helping the National Health Service to clear the backlog caused by the pandemic.

Border crossings

The border changes are part of a wider post-Brexit overhaul. The government has promised to tackle illegal crossings and discourage low-wage immigration.

Ministers say the electronic travel authorisation will be similar to the ESTA system which British tourists need to visit the US.

It means that everyone visiting the UK, except British and Irish nationals, will need to seek permission to enter before they visit the country.

The rising number of people crossing the English Channel from France and Belgium has been a long-running political problem for the UK.

Officials say Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic and increased security at Channel ports have all contributed to a switch in people smuggling operations, from lorry-based transport to small boats.

The numbers crossing in the backs of lorries remains the predominant form of transport but the sight of tiny vessels packed with migrants has moved the issue up the political agenda.

The number of people who have made the dangerous journey across the English Channel in small boats this year is double the total for all of 2020.

Since the start of the year, more than 18,000 people have succeeded in reaching the UK by boat. In 2020, 8,417 people crossed the Dover Strait, the strait at the narrowest part of the English Channel between the UK and France.

Mr Sunak’s plans to be unveiled this week will also include just over £1 billion to be spent over the next three years on “new UK sovereign functions” following Brexit.

This will include money for more than 1,000 Border Force officers to deliver customs and transit checks.

Budget promises

Sajid Javid, the UK's Health Secretary, said on Monday that the planned increase in NHS funding would “start making a difference pretty quickly".

He said the money would go on infrastructure such as beds and computer equipment. Funding for NHS staff would come from the tax increase announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month, he said.

“If you stayed away from the NHS, including your doctor, at the height of the pandemic, everyone understands why you did — you were asked to — but now you please need to come forward,” Mr Javid said.

More than £30 billion of spending has been committed across numerous announcements from the Treasury at the weekend. The largest of these is £7bn for public transport outside London.

What else is in Autumn Budget?

Other announcements on Sunday night included tax changes to tempt more of the world's largest shipping companies to UK shores.

A pot of £850m will “breathe life” back into cultural hotspots which were closed during the pandemic, such as London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

There will be £2bn to help local councils build homes on previously developed land, and £150m to encourage investment outside London and the wealthy south-east.

A new talent network to attract high-skilled workers to the UK will also be set up in innovation hotspots, first in the Bay Area of San Francisco and Boston in the US in 2022, and also Bengaluru in India.

Mr Sunak wants to start a “skills revolution” and put £3bn into education, with the number of training camps in artificial intelligence and cyber security set to be quadrupled.

His plans for spending on young families led to indignation from the opposition Labour Party, which championed a similar scheme when it was last in government. It was later cut by the Conservatives.

“It was such a proud achievement of the last Labour government and it really was an act of criminality to rip that all up only to now, 11 years later, create a pale imitation,” said shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves.

Mr Sunak's previous budgets, in March 2021 and March 2020, were heavily focused on supporting the country through the pandemic.

Updated: October 25th 2021, 8:27 AM
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