The Guardian spins it like this…
Immigrants who take part in anti-war demonstrations could jeopardise their chances of getting British citizenship under new government proposals, a Home Office minister said today.
… and The Telegraph like this:
Marks could be deducted from applicants who have a history of anti-social behaviour, which could include protesting against British troops, or even failing to integrate into British life.
If The Guardian’s take on this is correct, I’d be alarmed by this development.
How can participating in the political life of a country and holding an opinion – which is surely the right of every free citizen – be held against you for immigration purposes? It would imply that at the time of making one’s immigration application, one would have to appear to support the the policies of the party in government at that time. But what if you have LibDem sympathies and there’s a Labour government, or the Tories are in power but Labour is your natural political home?
Is participating in political life, as a free person, not one of the reasons why someone would chose to live in a democracy like the United Kingdom?
On the other hand, if the spin The Telegraph has put on it is more correct, then perhaps there is a case to support. Showing contempt for this country and its democratic institutions perhaps should be a warning sign that one isn’t the sort of citizen the UK wants. Demonstrating against British troops – as opposed to the policy of going to war – could, I suppose, arguably raise questions about one’s loyalties.
But where do we draw the line? Would one for example have to pretend that one supported The Monarchy – even though one was in truth an ardent Republican? Would an atheist, or a Catholic or a Hindu, have to pretend to be in favour of the Established Church?
I concede that there is a case to be made that people who show overt contempt for the values – liberal democracy in particular – for which the UK stands, should be made unwelcome or even declared undesirable, but linking this test to contemporary political issues or current government policy is wrong-headed. This is a question of philosophy and ethos, not current affairs.
Within the framework of a modern, liberal, democratic Britain, there ought to be a wide latitude for opinion and conscience. Our policy makers should be putting their energy in defining the clear boundaries – whatever they may be – which frame this latitude.
There’s more at the BBC, including an audio interview with Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas.
In the interview, the difference between an “antiwar protest” and “jeering at British troops” is somewhat muddled – which explains the different takes reported in The Guardian and The Telegraph. But isn’t this blurred meaning precisely the problem? If the government is going to show leadership in this matter, the first thing they need to do is speak with coherence and clarity. But to be fair, on this score, they’re rather out of practice.