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Theresa May's "British values" test for overseas visitors has been branded a "ridiculous idea" – and rightly so

New plans from the Home Secretary aim to introduce a "British values" test for foreigners seeking to work, study and attend business meetings in the UK.

I was recently at a graduation ceremony and something bizarre happened. Once the tedious formalities of white men wearing robes and handing out certificates was over, we were asked to stand. Then, from the soundsystem of the Barbican centre blasted God Save the Queen. My classmates looked awkwardly at each other as they attempted – in vain – to recall the lyrics of this centuries old national anthem. The result of this cringeworthy display of nationalism: an awkward silence. 

Under new plans from the Home Secretary, Theresa May, overseas visitors seeking to work, study or even attend business meetings in the UK would have to demonstrate their respect for “British values” by undergoing a test for visas. According to the Financial Times, the document that outlines these plans states: "We want to make clear to those seeking to visit, work or study in the UK, and those granted protection, that they need to abide by and respect British values throughout their stay in this country . . . We will make British values an integral part of applying for a visa.”

But how exactly the Home Office plans to make overseas visitors display their respect for this abstract principle of “British values” is unclear. Will visitors form orderly queues at visa centres, while they wait in turn to recite God Save the Queen? Or will they be given a Q+A format card, styled on the United States’ homeland security questions – replacing "are you a member of a terrorist organisation?" with "on a scale of one to ten (one being 'utterly detest' and ten being 'crazy in love'), how would you rate Queen Elizabeth II?" I can imagine terrorists quivering at such a prospect.

The coalition's partners have branded the test a “ridiculous idea”. One senior Lib Dem said: “The Tories talk a good game about the global race and then come forward with preposterous ideas like this, which is completely at odds with the Britain we want, that’s tolerant and open for business and trade and investment. This just isn’t a proportionate response.”

Speaking to me today, Andrew WM Smith, a visiting fellow at UCL's history department said that the plans seemed like an advanced move on the Tebbit test  a phrase coined after remarks in the early Nineties from the Tory grandee Norman Tebbit. The Tebbit test was used as a reference to the perceived lack of loyalty of immigrants to the England cricket team. Tebbit claimed that those immigrants, who chose to support their native countries team, rather than the England cricket team, were not significantly integrated into the UK.

"It's more prescriptive than ideas we've seen in the past. There's also a sense that people wouldn't be able to pass a citizenship test who have lived all their life in Britain," added Smith. Certainly the case for the students in my cohort.

Haras Rafiq, managing director of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremism think tank, said that the proposal was “just not do-able.” “Do we get into the realm of thought police?” he asked. “That’s just not something that should be done in a liberal, secular democracy. We should be focusing on protecting the UK from those people who want and are able to do us harm.”

The government has previously defined “British values” as, “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs”.  But for once, I find myself agreeing with the controversial historian, David Starkey (did I just write that?), who branded the government’s definition as “banal”. He went on to add that the definition should include: “queuing, drunkenness, nostalgia, loving pets and self-loathing”.

He has a point. The way the government frames the process of people coming into our country, dressing up restrictions with the label of "British values", conjures up stale tropes about British society: cups of tea, the royal family and the Union Jack. Not only would this "British values" test undermine recent efforts made by the Home Office to simplify the visa rules for business visitors, it is against the tolerant society that Britain purports to be on the global stage. 

Ashley Cowburn writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2014. He tweets @ashcowburn

 

 

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.