Monday 3 August 2009

Government Rejects Universal Right to Free Speech

Home Office Minister Phil Woolas this morning confirmed on Radio 4's Today programme that the right to protest exists only for full citizens under the government's racist points-based citizenship proposals.

It is true, said Woolas - those involved in entirely lawful protest considered 'unpatriotic' or 'unBritish', such as anti-war demonstrations, will be denied citizenship. New 'probationary' citizen will be expected to curtail their right to freedom of speech in order be granted the right to enjoy it fully if they become a British citizen.

The following is part of the interview, in which Woolas said:

Woolas: Well clearly, freedom is speech is guaranteed by the law, for citizens. Under the proposals, one of the suggestions is that, if you break the law, then clearly your citizenship will be jeopardised."

Sarah Montague: But what if you don't break the law. Freedom of speech would not be guaranteed for non-citizens?

Woolas: Between those areas, we think is right to say, if we are asking the new citizen, as incidently other countries around the world do, to have an oath of allegiance to that country, that it is right to try to define, in some objective terms, what that means. And clearly, an acceptance of the democratic rule of law and the principle behind that, we think is important. And we think it is fair to ask that. You are absolutely right to say the definition is what is going to be debated, but the principle that we are putting forward this morning, we think will carry support and we think it's right.

Montague:But how on earth would you decide whether something, and you used the word 'objective', if someone is doing something that has not broken the law, but say they're demonstrating...

Woolas: Well, let me just give you an example. There are tens of thousands of immigration tribunals that sit throughout the country, throughout the year, and they are asked to take these decisions within guidelines and within rules. Let's not get hung up on this particular point...

Montague:But it's an interesting one...

Woolas: It's a very interesting one...

Montague: Because it illustrates some of the problems. One wonders how you could decide in a situation like that. Are you effectively saying to people who want to have a British passport, you can have one and when you've got one, you can demonstrate as much as you like, but until then, don't?

Woolas: In essence, yes. In essence, we are saying that the test that applies to the citizen should be broader than the test that applies to the person who wants to be a citizen. I think that that's a fair point of view, that if you want to come to our country and settle, that you should show that adherence. And incidently, I think part of the mistake in this debate, in the public comment, is the assumption that the migrant doesn't accept that point of view. The vast majority, in my experience, do want to show that they are aspiring to intergrate and to support our way of life.
Full interview here:

Presumably this mean that the government has decided to derogate from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

I tried out the official Practice Citizenship Test and I managed 16 out of 24 - a fail, but my 'citizenship', perhaps my life, doesn't depend on the outcome of such arbitrary nonsense, so that's OK. Finally a reason to feel lucky for being born in Essex.

I may have a Masters degree in Politics, but that doesn't mean I know exactly how many parliamentary constituencies there are, and guess wrongly. There was no option saying 'far too many'. I failed on the year when married women secured the right to divorce their husbands and on the question about whether adults unemployed for six months must join New Deal if they wish to continue receiving benefit (surely this changes every time the government has another crackdown on alleged 'benefits scroungers'?)

I had no idea how many children and young people up to the age of 19 there are in the UK - there was no option saying 'far too many' - and I even managed to guess incorrectly the qualifications for voters in all UK public elections. And the number of days schools must be open was a wild guess (which I failed).

Seriously: how many members of Parliament could answer these questions?

1 Comment:

Green Gordon said...

Don't want you to think I'm agreeing with the government, but this is something I've had to put thought into for personal reasons.

I once asked my father if he'd have a problem with me getting involved in direct action that may lead to an arrest. He said 'not on a personal level, but it could lead to you being deported' Which was true enough.

There's also an arguable point that non-nationals of the UK do have free speech, but equally the Home Office have total discretion over who is granted citizenship. Any criminal record (including arrests without conviction) could could count against you if they were evidence against 'good character'.

Equally UK citizenship can be removed from naturalised citizens so long as it wouldn't make them stateless. This would likely only happen in extreme conditions (abu hamza...)

Now, I don't think it's fair, but any prospective citizen is likely to treat to keep in the State's good books until they get that elusive passport.

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