We can’t have “British Values” if we want to be truly democratic, tolerant and pluralistic

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What does it mean to be British? If we think about it carefully, there are only two things that make you British. You were either born here or you have been given British citizenship.

Now, there may be some things that at a certain level unite us together.  There is a common language and a certain shared history and this along with environment and education may lead to shared enjoyment of cultural pursuits and certain stereotypical traits. However, even that has its limits.  It may be thought socially acceptable to stand for the national anthem, support the England Cricket team and enjoy watching football, a pint in your hand singing “Football’s coming home.” [1]However, whilst it might be frowned upon to descent, it is not going to stop me from being British. I could even be a republican and still be British, after all, one of the greatest of Englishmen, Oliver Cromwell replaced the King for a while!

And yet, as life has become more global, as borders have come down we seem more concerned than ever to define our national identity. These days, the tendency is to talk about British Values and insist that people who come here and seek citizenship must agree to share and embody those values. So, what exactly are those values? Well, they are listed as


The Rule of Law

Individual Liberty

Mutual Respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.[2]

Now, those are all great things to value aren’t they? However, there is nothing that makes them particularly British. I think plenty of people from around the world could sign up to them. It would probably really nark the French to discover that they are British after all.  At the same time, if I was Greek then I might argue that the British have not in fact valued democracy for much of our history. Similarly, religious dissenters might want to know when exactly we started enforcing the fourth value.

Indeed, my very individual liberty must surely mean that, providing I do not step outside of the rule of law that I am free not to respect and tolerate other faiths.  Do I respect the Jehovah’s Witness position on blood transfusions? Certainly not. Are my beliefs on a whole range of issues respected and tolerated by others, including those in power? I get the feeling that they are not. Can secularists and humanists like Richard Dawkins find it in themselves to respect and tolerate Christianity and Islam? The whole point of his book The God Delusion is that he finds religion intolerable.

Indeed, the fourth option would be absolutely nuts if we followed it properly wouldn’t it?

               “Excuse me sir, why are you not wearing a face mask?”

               “Because, officer, I believe it is the mark of the beast.”

               “fair enough sir. Have a nice day.”

What I am coming to is this. You can’t claim on the one hand to have a free and democratic society and then insist that people must conform to a set of values.  The reality is that people value different things. That’s what distinguishes political parties and religious groupings. Jeremy Corbyn clerly operated to a different set of values to Theresa May and Boris Johnson, otherwise a democratic election would have been pointless.

Now, for most of us, the values issue is not particularly important. The reality is that these are just glossy words. If I announce that I disagree with the values, as things stand at the moment, then I’m unlikely to get a knock on the door, I won’t have my degrees rescinded, I won’t be told that I must now leave the country.  I might get some snarky comments on twitter and Facebook but that will be that.

However, we tend to be told that these values are important for people coming to the country ans immigrants or asylum seekers. It is important that they settle and integrate and therefore they must share our values. That’s where the trouble starts because for them, not being seen to comply with the values could cause them trouble, may result in them not being given leave to remain and obtaining citizenship.

Furthermore, because in fact, those so called values are so generic and top level, I think that what is really meant is not those four statements. Rather people are looking at the expected consequences.  So, someone who holds those values will also be supportive of the LGBTQ agenda or abortion and euthanasia and of the rejection of objective truth.

This should give us pause to think as Christians. Before we accept the values criteria for welcoming people into the UK, are we asking them to sign up with an agenda which we too would disagree with?

In reality, the only requirements for being allowed to settle here should be that the person is willing to submit to the rule of law and perhaps that they should develop a love for afternoon tea.

[1] Insert appropriate chant for one of the other home nations here.

[2] https://www.youngcitizens.org/british-values

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