Should we give priority to Christian immigrants?

Lord Carey's comments risk stirring up pointless divisions

The former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, was at the centre of a controversy today after making comments to the effect that the UK should give priority to Christian immigrants.

He gave an interview to BBC Radio (you can listen to it here) after putting his name to a call by a cross-party group of MPs and peers for a cap on immigration to prevent the population from swelling to 70 million by 2029.

Here's the relevant excerpt from the interview:

Lord Carey: What I'm concerned about is that we should give priority to all those who are committed to our democratic values; a commitment to parliamentary democracy and understanding of our history, and certainly anyone who comes into our country must be committed to learning the English language.

Now it may be that as a result of that that those who really come from Christian nations or formerly Christian may be regarded as priorities, but I wouldn't want to put that -- I'm saying that it's the values that matter, not the beliefs.

Nicky Campbell: So because we want people with certain values, it's more likely that they will come from Christian countries?

Lord Carey: Exactly.

Now, I don't want to play the "racist" card here -- it's unproductive and precludes rational debate on the subject of immigration, which, as Michael White points out, we need to have.

But there is something profoundly uncomfortable about taking one faith and stating that its members are by nature more democratic, particularly given that Christianity is by no means monolithic -- a point that Dave Semple makes in an interesting discussion of the comments. Let's not pretend that Christians always, by default, do democracy. What about Nazi Germany, or Mussolini's Italy? Christianity is the dominant religion in Belarus, the last remaining dictatorship in Europe. So, too, in Zimbabwe.

The point I'm making is that generalisation along the lines of faith is completely unhelpful -- especially given that all indicators show that Britain is steadily secularising. Research has shown that 66 per cent of the population have no actual connection to any religion or church, despite what they write down on official forms, and that between 1979 and 2005, half of all Christians stopped going to church on a Sunday. In the light of this, Carey's comments start to look like they're stirring up pointless divisions.

Asked about "Islamification", the former archbishop said:

I wouldn't want to focus simply upon Muslim communities -- our country has always had a very strong commitment to inclusion and welcoming the stranger in our midst.

I'll ignore the "stranger in our midst" comment, although as my mother's family is from Pakistan it irks me (is it only the Christian former colonies that count?). But he goes on to praise Jews, Hindus and Sikhs for their integration, saying: "The Muslim community, less so."

I am not accusing Lord Carey of racism or Islamophobia, but comments like this -- particularly taken out of context -- can sound frighteningly reminiscent of those made by the far right. Blogging on the Telegraph's website, Damian Thompson, in a piece of classic generalisation and scaremongering, makes the throwaway remark that Carey must have "opened his eyes to the shared anti-Christian agenda of multiculturalists and Muslims".

The call for a cap on immigration is said to be motivated in part by a desire not to play into the hands of the far right. But stirring up divisions along religious lines risks doing just that.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.