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A new, unified border force announced

In a statement to parliament, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain is to have a unified border force to 'strengthen the powers and surveillance capability' of those working to stop terrorists from entering the country.

The force would integrate the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs and UKvisas, and would operate both overseas and at the main points of entry to the UK.

The announcement came as part of a wide-ranging assessment to parliament of the UK's anti-terrorism efforts.

The first line of defence against terrorism is overseas, the Prime Minister said, where people first embark on journeys to the UK.

So he called for accelerating plans to remove old and ineffective paper-based systems and replacing them with 'real-time monitoring', which would allow for immediate action and full coordination across immigration, police and intelligence.

'The way forward is electronic screening of all passengers as they check in and out of our country at ports and airports – so that terrorist suspects can be identified and stopped before they board planes, trains and boats to the United Kingdom,' he said.

For that purpose, the Home Office will enhance the existing E-Borders programme to incorporate all passenger information to help track and intercept terrorists and criminals.

While new biometric visas are already in place for immigrants from high-risk countries, within nine months biometric visas will be extended to all applicants. And from 2009, the government will introduce a new, enhanced system of electronic exit control, checking passports against lists of known or suspected terrorists.

At the same time, the government will work to enhance existing cooperation agreements with other countries, to smooth the process of exchanging information about terrorists and criminals, and to join up criminal records databases with other countries in the EU.

As part of that process, the UK 'watch list' will be linked up with the Interpol database of lost and stolen documents.