The recent revelations that the system of counting in and counting out people from the U.K isn't 'fit for purpose' doesn't come as much of a surprise does it? I posted my own anecdotal evidence on a BBC site a couple of years ago about my experience coming back from Paris and also on here the rather over zealous approach of the U.K border control officers when returning from Germany in 2011. I think most people appreciate the need for security checks but immigration checks seem very much a hit and miss affair and also something of a self service arrangement in certain circumstances.
What I do find staggering is the news that the system for counting those in and out will not be ready until 2018, how is that possible? As an island with only a fairly limited number of, legal, entry points via ports and airports etc you would think that the electronic process of recording passport details would be fairly straightforward in fact if you spend a little time thinking about it you soon realise that it isn't a difficult logistical exercise at all. All passports have information on them that can be read by a machine at customs/border control, this information can surely be converted into data for statistical purposes. This doesn't involve any voluntary questions, any delays or any infringements of basic 'human rights', moreover if you are a citizen of the EU you are usually ushered into a separate queue from the rest of the world.
Away from ports and airports there are thousands of small harbours around the country but even here there are fairly adequate controls in place, either formally through customs or informally through the local harbour masters or even locals themselves. Boats over a certain size have to be fitted with radios and tracking equipment and those under that size tend to be small pleasure boats which people only use at the weekend. I know that we have grown up with the idea of a country dotted with endless private runways where the bad guys in James Bond movies can land their aircraft but planes landing in the U.K are subject to radar and flight plan filing regulations and it's hard to imagine a 747 full of asylum seekers or illegal immigrants slipping in under the radar.
If you think of the U.K, with all its entry and exit points, as a giant supermarket that has to maintain some level of stock control it's not to hard to imagine a working system that records people entering and leaving the U.K and also their country of origin when arriving or leaving. It does seem rather ironic that we live in an age where our electronic movements can be tracked and yet our physical movement can by-pass any form of official identification.