Take care when talking about “British values” - it can end badly

The truth is, there is no substantial definition of "British values" and "integration", which are landmark terms for restrictive measures and border control. 

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Recently, a law was proposed in Germany banning immigrants from speaking their own language at home.

Closer to Westminster, Theresa May aimed an entire speech at making integration more effective. According to the Telegraph, David Cameron declared that certain religious groups “must embrace our British values”. Even the Ukip surge is largely attributable to strong use of patriotic language aimed at “defending British habits and values.”

Terms like “British values” even appear in government guideline documents. For example, aspects of schooling have been reformed to “actively promote British values.”

Border control also makes reference to integration. In Appendix FM (Immigration Rules for family migrants) passing English language and citizenship tests is apparently sufficient evidence for integration.

However, the deliberate use of these terms is primarily a headline aimed at retaining popularity with certain demographics. It can also be a form of subsidiary justification for imposing more restrictive measures and border controls.

After all, there is no national policy framework on integration in the United Kingdom. Nor is there domestic legislation aimed specifically at what constitutes British values. Therefore the above speeches, rules, and guideline documents become vague nouns, overlooked in institutional practice.

Outside the remit of government, these terms pose a greater threat. Perpetuated as a standard of sensibility by consistent political use, enforcing “British values” has become a convenient pretext for casual xenophobia and bigotry. It is natural to see baseless comments from far-right supporters alleging that multiculturalism will cause a genocide of British culture.

This is demonstrated by openly hostile articles and overwhelming support for comments which would otherwise be deemed unequivocally racist and intolerant. Yet commentators and authors perhaps even themselves do not see their bigotry, as the excuse of “integration” and “promoting British values” has been used to push these ideas and overshadow their true nature.

One only needs to look at popular opinion on certain outlets to understand the danger of racism not only being prevalent, but also somehow acceptable if phrased correctly.

For example, the wearing of traditional clothing, speaking another language in public, or refusing to partake in certain celebrations. Such “foreign” behaviours are frequently met with a scornful “integrate or leave”. Radical measures are also increasingly being justified on the basis of “protecting culture”.

Is it not ironic to use the maintenance of one cultural heritage as reason to destroy another?

“Integration” has a variety of meanings depending on the user. When Britain First say “integrate”, it is not the same as the Tories saying so. Nevertheless, both imply an obligatory element of change in the migrant or minority’s personal characteristics. This begs the question, how much change is necessary?

“British values” and “integration” undoubtedly go hand-in-hand. The controversy of what constitutes integration is largely due to “British values” having no consensus. If one were to objectively and fairly define British values, the requirements for integration would become obvious.

Britain is a democracy. It thus follows that any objective and fair decision must adhere to democratic principles; a decision by an elected institution. Parliament.

Yet any current parliament has its minority and majority views. To define something as inherent as British values, there must be a more significant basis.

For instance, a basis which embodies recent British history, majority opinion, and has been expressed on the global stage for all to witness. That would define values most dear to Britain.

One such source emerges. It is a provision contained in an international treaty, ratified by (never revoked) and tacitly accepted by more than ten consecutive democratically elected British parliaments. Parliaments spanning views from every shade of the political spectrum

Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, binding on the UK since 1976 reads:

[States in] which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied… their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.

British values evidently encourage multiculturalism. Therefore, integration would simply mean, as former Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins put it, “an atmosphere of mutual tolerance” (Rose-1969).

British or otherwise, the only aspect one may need to change to integrate, is their perspective.

Rabah Kherbane is a law graduate who specialises in international law, human rights and legal analysis of current affairs