[MAC0031]

Written evidence submitted by Amit Bhagwat (MAC0031)

The Macpherson Report: twenty-one years on

Home Affairs Select Committee Enquiry

Introduction

I would like to provide inputs to this enquiry around “police practices” and “relation with BME communities”. I would also like to suggest to this committee and its sister committee associated with Justice a number of lines of enquiry looking more deeply into specific aspects of how far police forces understand BME communities, especially where additional affiliation with another nation or outfits based in another nation is concerned; and how they look into a crime which may not be identified primarily as a race crime but which may have a race element in the way it was perpetrated or which may be perceived to have a racism element within the police if its investigation comes across as less than scrupulous. I would also encourage this committee to conduct a separate deep enquiry into the iniquitous, and often irrational, approach to citizenship endemic in the British system. Apart from matters of fairness these issues also have strong influence on what kind of individuals this country attracts as its future citizens by naturalisation and what effect that has not only on race relations but also on overall progress of this society.

I came to this country two decades ago as a highly-skilled person and as a world-citizen, having grown up in a large diverse secular democratic multi-cultural nation, having proven myself repeatedly at the national level and having begun to establish myself internationally. I was not a classic economic migrant, though unlike my western colleagues, my nationality by birth meant significant disadvantages for me when it came to working across the Western world. Even as my Western peers were using the buoyant early and mid-2000s to build their multi-national executive careers – careers on which they have relied for their non-executive careers since the 2007 financial downturn, I needed to focus on establishing for myself an international recognition in my field, while physically based in the UK. In some ways I was a pioneer in doing things remotely, including holding significant roles in international professional and learned bodies, though when organisations were not progressive enough to allow remote participation, I often had to forego opportunities to speak at international events, pay short visits to international institutions & events, do in-person business deals over quiet dinner, etc, as it was simply too time consuming to visit London-based consulates of every little Western country to often be given very short term visas after long wait and significant cost (even the Schengen visa system is quite irrational. The thinking is quite insular within consulates of individual European countries, and there is no easy way to get longer visas even if one were to document half a dozen likely visits to specific events across the region over say the next 3 years. Requirements while checking in at an airport are quite iniquitous and rarely explained, the presumption being that all travellers will be travelling on passports from privileged nationalities). I was able to establish myself in the top tier of the points-based Highly Skilled Migrant Programme with ~twice the points needed to qualify. Even as I have attained international recognition in certain fields, overall I have enjoyed a multi-dimensional career profile and have worked in and across a number of disciplines, choosing to work in roles/ assignments based on their likely long-term value to the society, thus developing an unusually broad career, my analytical abilities and critical thinking being the common denominators across my many strands of work. My skills have been valued enough where I have never needed to work simply to put food on the table and I have never needed to use the benefits system. I have lived a simple life where through most of my life in this country, and especially after gaining Settlement/Indefinite Leave status, I have had the liberty to give over half of my time freely to a wide variety of worthy causes. For example, just the cumulative total of my charity trustee roles (which have also included responsibilities as chair, treasurer, audit chair, etc) stands in excess of 2 dozen years. All this has given me an unusual level of independence in my lifenot always usual among BME immigrants, and even as I have lived as integral part of this society and loved its progressive secular philosophical rational democratic undercurrent, I have retained the freedom to calmly question being subjected to practices that go against this undercurrent, and have tended not to act in pursuit of short-term personal benefit if in so doing I might need to perpetrate avoidable violation of a higher principle. As such, I am also able to bring an independent critical perspective to this inquiry, and other inquiries I have suggested here, while also bringing a depth of knowledge about approach to immigration & citizenship, about work of various public protection bodies, including the police, and people & institutions associated with the Strategy-Policy-Leadership space that often ultimately determine, and certainly influence, actions and inactions of frontline operatives like Police and Immigration Officers.

I am in the fifth year of a Ministry of Justice public appointment related to public protection which has given me insight into a large number of cases associated with serious and organised crime, including where race of those involved might have played a part or where this might have been perceived to have played a part, and I have therefore also had opportunity to look into the social structures and situations associated with serious crimes, including the element of race. I have naturally also studied the MacPherson Report, as also reports on race riots of 2001 (e.g. Ouseley, Cantle, Ritchie) as also the Scarman report. I trust this committee will find value in the inputs below, both in the limited context of this inquiry, and in setting up other deeper inquiries into related issues I highlight. I would be happy to offer further evidence to such inquiries.

Scope for improvement within Police Forces with Specific Attention to BME races

An example

Let me begin with the generic outline of a case of crime I studied a few years before taking up my MoJ public appointment. This happened in one of our core city/metropolitan areas, with many similarities to the urban cosmopolitan environment of London. The victim, BME, observed a white criminal trying to steal his bike and successfully resisted. A few minutes later, as the victim was bicycling, he was assaulted by a glass weapon brandished (and smashed in the attack) out of the passenger side of cab of a transit-sized open goods vehicle. The victim, wearing a headgear, suffered cuts to his ear, but bicycled to the nearest police station bleeding where he was given first aid and was able to give a statement, including part of the vehicle’s registration number. The information was sufficient for the police, using their intelligence/databases, to zero in on the perpetrator. The police took the victim to the hospital where he was stitched. The facts, going back to the attempted theft of the bicycle, had potential access to several witnesses at multiple locations, surveillance and other forensic evidence, though there is no evidence that the police pursued any of that evidence. The police sergeant put in charge was one who was shortly going on leave and it was not for several weeks that the victim was requested to participate in an offender identification exercise. The victim, leading a busy life and meeting many people each day, was not able to identify the offender to match the offender the police had zeroed on based on the information (including greater part of registration number of the vehicle) and their databases/intelligence, though they appeared to have relied on the victim being able to identify the perpetrator, making no efforts to gain any other evidence that could have uniquely identified the perpetrator. They also appeared not to have considered the possibility that the suspect the police identified was driver of the vehicle, who might have been an accomplice in both the assault and the attempted theft, but whom the victim never saw, and it is even possible that the perpetrator who wielded the glass weapon or attempted to run away carrying a locked bike, was not shown to the victim as part of the identification exercise. Overall, the effort made by the police to bring the two perpetrators to justice was far less than either thorough or timely and did not result in a prosecution.

It is possible to suggest that this case did not involve race crime, and the police neither viewed it as race crime nor were they less thorough and less timely because the victim was BME. It was rather the police trying to do their best within limited resources and it turned out not to be good enough. On the other hand, it is possible to suggest that there was an added racial element to the attack, even if not to the attempted theft, and a racial element, perhaps unconscious, played a part in the police performance being so far below the best that they could have done. The case, in turn, could have been of far more serious bodily harm, even death, as the victim was bicycling on a busy road, or could have precipitated into a long-term serious health/disability effect. The police certainly missed an opportunity to put to rest any such suspicions about their lack of empathy/attention by doing their very best, especially as it was known that the victim did not have access to close family circle or established community support and that he was not only BME but also an immigrant.  Even as the incidence had far less tragic ending than Stephen Lawrence case, and racism might or might not have been the motive, there are certainly aspects of this case (which occurred nearer to today than to Stephen’s murder) in which the police were found wanting, that resonate with the attitude and conduct outlined by Sir William MacPherson.

Many studies have exposed examples of both individual and institutional racism/bias within many police forces. However, even where the police are not consciously biased or racist (which I hope are the vast majority of our police forces), their lack of empathy towards BME communities and their unwillingness or inability to take special steps to make their service become and feel equitable, can amount to mistrust towards police.

The Immigrant Angle & Lack of Curiosity within the Police

Britain, and especially England, is often described as the Mongrel Nation. Its mixing and assimilation of good from many cultures, and the visible diversity in public life is considered a great strength and soft-power in the wider world. Yet, not all immigrants are or considered equal, nor are they judged purely on their merit. While this country has always had immigration and diversity – the blonde, the brunette, the ginger, the brown-blue-grey-green-hazel eyed, the many distinct regional patois, etc have always existed and even as there are significant populations who can trace their ancestries to the Romans, Normans, Huguenots, Dutch, Hanoverians, etc, many of whom came in large numbers with successive waves of ruling classes, in today’s definition of race, they have all been considered identical. Even the Irish – who were never rulers, who can often trace their ancestry back to Ireland, and who often have a right to Irish citizenship by ancestry, are considered no different (though there are tick boxes for the Irish, Scot, etc in the diversity monitoring form). The non-white races therefore tend to be the focus of race-related enquiries, and indeed of most instances of perceived racism. This, very likely happens because the advent of modern immigration system is a post-imperial phenomenon. There is a tendency to think of non-white immigrants as economic migrants, often desperate low-skilled migrants who would do some of the lowest paid jobs in the society. Even as we try to acknowledge that all jobs are vital in our society, we choose to let in migrants from specific strata of specific societies to do specific jobs under the very restrictive, even tantamount to bonded labour/slavery, Work Permits system. Even as birds of the same feather often flock together, if the birds additionally come without insight into obscure British practices, without high level of education, often with modestly developed scholastic abilities, often with little or no command on the language, often working in long hours in low-paid jobs that further limit opportunities for education, it is not surprising that such immigrants end up forming nations-within-nations – a phenomenon highlighted in many reports I have noted earlier and in many learned tomes using the term Segregation. The police continually appear caught out by surprise whether the wave of such moderately skilled immigrants working on low paid jobs comes from Pakistan, West Indies or Poland. The police certainly do not appear prepared to receive the immigrants unfamiliar with the British ways (which are often not rational or intuitive) and can end up alienating them through lack of empathy & curiosity – those not being historically considered key qualities in policing.

The police, like the rest of the average society a generation or two ago, have a spectrum of abilities among their officers, and even as the above-average officers begin to develop good instincts, they are often caught off guard by anything new – whether it is a new type of immigrant or new type of crime or even new instruments used in old type of crime (as investigator into Ministry of Justice Serious Case Reviews, I can claim some insight into this). The worst victims of course tend to be immigrants who struggle to understand many unfamiliar and often irrational British practices, and segregation has an additional echo-chamber effect which, without high quality community liaison work, can breed further distrust/alienation.

In turn, the mediocre among the police and other frontline agencies further exacerbate the situation, as they try to cope with changing guidelines coming from the top. Sometimes “Equality and Diversity” is interpreted as not being curious/vigilant enough when drug dealing and sexual exploitation gangs appear more prevalent among individuals from certain sections of the segregated communities, while at other times “Hostile Environment” becomes being nasty to all non-whites. No rational person will ask that for every black gang member stopped and searched, the police should stop and search an equal number of white grannies at a WI meeting so the statistics looks equal, but rather that the quality and intelligence needs to be high and their needs to be continuous learning so the intelligence keeps rising.

While the police certainly need to develop ability to be more thoughtful, empathetic and agile, those at the top, in the policy and legislative space, who bring in changes to grab headlines, also need to think deep enough as to how changes are going to be propagated and embedded, and how safeguards are going to be developed and institutionalised to make positive changes persistent and nuanced. In turn, they need to embed monitoring systems to seek how well specific well-understood rational reforms have been embedded and be consistent with the changes, not allowing them to become party pet projects to please relatively small hard-core constituencies.

The lack of professional curiosity is further exacerbated by the Island Mentality where police forces can fall seriously behind what is happening in other nations and cultures and whether & how that might impact their diaspora based here, with the ignorance wide ranging from how the passport-provision process, extradition process, even rule of law and trust in law-enforcement agencies can be significantly different in different countries, including “white countries”, with the possibility of those perpetrating serious crime in this country being able to abscond, presumably to such other country.

Finding BME participation to ‘make the police mirror the society’

Much has been said about this approach and in a few of our metropolitan areas there have been a few successes. There though are a number of challenges. Firstly, the immigration factor and non-intuitive, non-rational or at least not-very-well-documented-in-simple-modern-rational-language nature of many British practices means that it is usually those BME who have lived here their whole life rather than BME who have come here as grown-ups who are more likely to be involved in such exercise, thereby maintaining a generational latency. Secondly, whenever there is perception of direct hostility by those in authority (such as that of the Hostile Environment) or a perception of communal alienation where someone from BME communities serving in the police is seen as a “traitor” / “grass”/ “stooge” in those communities, motivation can greatly reduce. Thirdly, if immigration from specific community has happened under very narrow immigration criteria – such as through the Work Permits system, the very nature of such immigration can turn people from those communities predominating in certain professions or trades and be less inclined or less suitable for a police job – which has its risks and modesty of pay. Fourthly, the baseline danger of the job being exacerbated by additional hostility among average white criminals towards BME law-enforcers (this is sadly also true of attitude of the average male criminal towards the female law-enforcer) can further lesson attraction of such career. Fifthly the overall traditions and culture within the police being somewhat narrower and old-fashioned, it might not feel an attractive work environment for the diverse. It is possible to systematically work on all these aspects though it is essential that the law is equitable for all communities and seen to be so for such efforts to work. If an immigrant who came here legally to settle here suddenly ends up being in a situation that is ill-defined in law or may be perceived illegal under certain initiatives, then immigrant communities are bound to remain suspicious and less-inclined to be involved in law-enforcement and as many BME communities are also relatively recent immigrant communities, the statements I make about immigrants can also apply well to BME, especially the visibly non-white BME.

The Strategy-Policy-Leadership space that dictates Frontline Enforcement actions

I have already begun to reflect on this. The British society, certainly going back to the Normans, and perhaps going back to the Romans, has been a hierarchical society, with distinct castes for those in the strategy-policy-leadership space and those in the frontline operations space. P.G. Wodehouse’s frequent caricature of the village plod of simple faith in his superiors and the haughty magistrate with Norman blood running through his veins who towered over him, has had basis in the social stratification of the day. Even as police officers are educated, and often very well educated these days, and while there are examples of people who have crossed class barriers, overall the police forces remain quite hierarchical. On the other hand the establishment, that controls Strategy-Policy-Leadership space that dictates Frontline Enforcement actions , still feels filled with people who continue to use old practices of family connections or tried and proven mirroring techniques of climbing the greasy pole. There is nothing that is assuredly clever, or even competent, in those at the top of the tree. Variability in competence at the top and adherence to rituals and tradition rather than rational principles and processes can be off-putting to people of merit or can prove serious barriers, continuing to keep many British systems without long-term consistent rational thought.

Let me illustrate this point with the apparent lack of long-term consistent fair rationale in the immigration and citizenship/naturalisation system, as I have observed it over the last two decades. As I have noted, this has not only greatly influenced the BME community’s sense of identity but has also affected what kind of individuals this country attracts as its future citizens by naturalisation and what effect that has not only on race relations but also on overall progress of this society.

The Oath

When I came to this country, people became permanently resident in 4 years and could apply to become citizens a year later. While the London establishment existed and the new citizen was perceived to notionally have become a subject of the royal family for those non-job-holders within the establishment to whom such things mattered, there was no gushing un-British public professing of feudal allegiance expected from the new citizen. The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 changed this. The whitepaper Secure Borders, Safe Haven, Integration with Diversity in Modern Britain, explained in the introduction: 

“It is symptomatic of the low-key and bureaucratic approach which the UK has adopted to the acquisition of British citizenship that, unlike the position in many other countries, there are no arrangements for any kind of public act to mark becoming a British citizen. The use of citizenship ceremonies is well established in Australia, Canada and the United States and is becoming increasingly common in European countries. There is evidence to suggest that these ceremonies can have an important impact on promoting the value of naturalisation and that immigrant groups welcome them.

The Government plans to address this by making provision in the forthcoming legislation for a citizenship ceremony to be held as an integral part of the naturalisation/registration process. This will give added significance to acquiring citizenship and provide an occasion at which individuals and their families and friends can mark the acquisition of citizenship. It also offers an opportunity for the State, and the local community, to welcome formally its new citizens.”

This might have sounded like a whiz within the Westminster bubble and could have worked well if applied sensibly, though in cases like mine, it has ended up being and impediment to citizenship, and overall, it has made British citizenship less attractive, even quite irrational, by the way the same process is forced on all. Let me explain.

I grew up in a diverse secular democratic multi-cultural society where everyone was expected to have opportunity to achieve their full potential and no one was supposed to be identified by their birth. The system did not always work perfectly though those who drafted the constitution did provide a clear sense of what was fair. It is because in practical terms Britain has a strong undercurrent of progressive secular philosophical rational democratic values coupled with strong links across the world that I was attracted to this country. There though is a glaring omission to these progressive values – the Royal Family. Even as the rest of us in this society are not given opportunity to become the head of the state that we love and figurehead of the society we care about, so those within the royal family are denied the freedom to grow in a free society and find their own place. They are confined to their golden cage through an accident of birth. While technically they can abdicate, and one of them actually did so, their anachronistic upbringing prepares them poorly to find a useful modern occupation, as the Duke of Windsor conclusively demonstrated. Even as I feel that all of us should have freedom and opportunity, including to become the head of the state we love and figurehead of the society we care about, so I feel that members of that family should not be condemned to a lifetime of drudgery of affected hand-waving and fancy-dress wearing due to misfortune of their birth. They should have the same opportunities that the rest of us have, to find their place in the society. So when it comes to pledging my feudal allegiance, not only to the present hereditary monarch who had the misfortune of seeing her father die early under the pressure of the office he did not wish to hold while stepping out of a naval career where he might have been happier, but “all her heirs and successors”, binding them, however symbolically, to my feudal overlordship, through a solemn pledge uttered loud and clear in a civic ceremony, it comes across not only as an act of lying under oath, but also engenders guilt for condemning William (who is younger than me and still has greater part of his life ahead of him) and even young George & his unborn children to a life of pointless practices and affected behaviour, totally at odds with the friendly egalitarian rational nature of modern British society.

As such, by introducing this procedure which I did not expect to be introduced in the 21st century in a friendly egalitarian rational society like modern Britain, the Westminster establishment has condemn progressive secular philosophical rational democratic egalitarian people like me, who were already here when this law was introduced, to a choice between lying under oath and not being recognised as a naturalised citizen of this land and its people that I have loved and cared about, and among whom I have lived through greater part of my adult life. Unless this changes, those like me, for an indefinite period and perhaps the remainder of our lives, will be left without a sensible way of acquiring a formal British identity.

This is certainly going to affect what kind of people are attracted to make Britain their home and fewer than before of progressive secular philosophical rational democratic mindset, which are the kind of people who often excel in modern fields of expertise like STEMMB subjects, and the kind of people that the government has, throughout last two decades, stated it wishes to attract, are going to be attracted, if the only way to formalise their British identity is through a compulsory medieval process that they can not, with honesty, undergo.

At the other end of the spectrum, the process of naturalisation is also becoming difficult to those immigrants on low wages whose willingness to live on such low wages and without much by way of disposable income has supported many sectors of our economy, because every new step added to the “path to citizenship” comes with whopping additional costs. Apparently the cost of the privilege to attend this mandatory citizenship ceremony is set at £80, which the poor immigrant with little disposable income must pay, as it is included in the nationality application payment by hiking that cost. There must be a better way for a low paid hard working immigrant delivering one of our essential services to spend perhaps a day’s wages than on a pointless ceremony in which s/he might be asked to lie under oath because the Westminster establishment thought this was a good whiz. I certainly don’t have anything against those who want to turn a solemn occasion into a party, but I would rather live responsibly and productively as citizen of this society every day from my first day here, than go to a party, utter a lie under oath, and then try to forget the whole experience. If the Westminster Establishment is serious about the experience being a genuine act of welcome then it should not involve the cost of this compulsory ceremony mandated and taken out of pocket of the person we are welcoming. Similarly, if the Westminster establishment thinks that oath of nationality at a ceremony would be nice then there ought to be the option of taking a sensible oath consistent with modern British values. When I was growing up, my language textbooks use to have a pledge on their first page. While this was for school students who were citizens of that country, the pledge, in its generic form, reads:

X is my country.
All X-ians are my brothers and sisters.
I love my country, and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
I shall treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion.
In their wellbeing and prosperity lies my happiness”

The pledge resonates well with modern British values and all we need is a modern name for the country with a handy demonym. I’ll be happy to take such pledge, perhaps using the words Britain and British in place of X and X-ians.

I have inquired with the authorities of the day periodically about this, going back all the way to the first time I was eligible for British citizenship in the mid-2000s and most recently with the prime minister’s office at the beginning of this year.  The authorities have so far chosen not to respond. It appears anachronism of the oath is embarrassment to many and virtually everyone would be happy for me to take a sensible pledge instead. However few appear to have either the authority or the empathy to do something about it. Perhaps this committee will?

This act, which saw its first citizenship ceremony in early 2004, before I could have become British citizen, was followed by other disasters.

Nannygate and Introduction of More Iniquitous Systems

In 2004, Nannygate exploded. Apparently, the Home Secretary abused his official position to fast-track Home Office paperwork of the nanny employed by a married woman he was having an affair with, a woman who allegedly gave birth to his son. Among all the murky details that came out, one piece of information stuck in my mind – nationality of those involved. The woman was an American citizen, married to an Irishman, while the nanny was noted in the press as Indonesian. While the episode and his abuse of his power made everyone in the Westminster village indignant, no one cared to reflect on the iniquitous treatment routinely meted out to non-Western, and mostly non-white immigrants, while most white immigrants, simply came in. More recently, even when EU citizens were asked to acquire additional paperwork following the referendum, the costs involved were often a tiny fraction of what most non-white immigrants (albeit because they were more likely to have non-EU nationality) have had to pay for Home Office processes, not to mention the delays, uncertainties and loss of opportunities they have faced over years while this was happening. For example, in the Nannygate case, the Irishman did not need any paperwork to work and live in Britain. The American woman could likewise take many liberties. For example, she could come and spend extended periods in the UK without a visa while she provided “business services”. If she eventually decided to serve as an employee and declare Britain as her base, rather than work as a business supplier who made all her earning in the UK but maintained US as her base, visiting it once every few months, then she still had the benefit of already being in the UK, trying out the work, negotiating a favourable contract, and being able to continue to provide business services while her Home Office paperwork came through (often taking years longer than the service level published – I am aware of many horror stories associated with the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme – the programme to attract the very best in the world – to which this has happened). The process for the Indonesian, and for nationals of most other non-white majority nations though was as tedious, as time consuming, as uncertainty-inducing and mandating expenditure at every stage, as it could get. There is no shortage of people, predominantly non-white immigrants, who have lost a good job offer, have needed to negotiate down to a worse paid offer than their white foreigner counterpart enjoying greater freedoms, or having to work illegally (or at least in a legal grey area) although they have done nothing fundamentally wrong and have been doing what they came here to do, though at times in another institution if the institution they came to work for was not responsible enough. There will be many jobs shaded this year as the furlough tapers off and the least-privileged nationality immigrants will often be the first to be made redundant, ending up in a legal grey area if they are working under a work permit, through no fault of theirs. There will often be no provision even for their return to their countries of origin, let alone for generous redundancy pay, nor for return of their national insurance contribution. In all cases, and despite it being understood that they would have lived, worked and settled in this country, they would be considered expendable foreign resources, with little care or consideration for life continuity, to which they should not have lesser access than their white and/or British counterparts.

In short, most white immigrants were, and have been, treated preferentially, a point that was further underscored the same year as EU expanded eastwards. Now anyone from this Eastern Europe – where human development indexes were low, where democratic values were not well established, where rule of law and independence of judiciary was not guaranteed, where people had very low trust in authorities, and where people had little or no understanding of English language, was more welcome in Britain than the most highly skilled non-western person who came from a secular democratic society with independence of judiciary, rule of law and high human development, even as the non-western’s Home Office applications languished in the dysfunctional system for an indefinite period. The point might not have been made in those terms – of white immigrants and others, and there could be a few exceptions – perhaps rules for Japan were a bit liberal, though the way BME communities interpreted the changing immigration regulations and the additional indefinite delays in Home Office paperwork for what was increasingly seen as non-white immigrants, was not this country’s finest hour.

BME population was already under stress. Many BME migrants who arrived here a generation or two ago had already faced significant racism, including in many institutions, and now the immigration system was seen as going full tilt at it, where white people with potentially no skills, no respect for rule of law, no respect for progressive democratic values could be more welcome than the ideal BME immigrant, and while few Eastern Europeans were actually extremely bad nor all non-white immigrants extremely good, the fact that the above scenario could occur was a further proof of institutional racism – whether by design or through lack of thought – at the highest level.

The worst examples of EU immigration, although outnumbered by more responsible and hardworking people from that region, nevertheless made alarming headlines by the possible and shocking actual cases, where the worst from Eastern Europe did indeed come to Britain and committed most serious crimes. One such criminal, Victor Dembovskis, a Latvian, had twice been convicted of raping women at knifepoint in Latvia in 1990 and 1999. Yet the Home Office was so lax in its protection mechanism and so eager to welcome anyone from his country to Britain, that he was not only allowed to be here, but was able to rape and murder a teenage girl in Sudbury Hill as she walked home from school, before fleeing to his native Latvia – a totally avoidable tragedy. The tragedy was compounded as the murder victim’s younger sister sank into depression and apparently committed suicide 3 years later. Not only was this second death avoidable by preventing the first avoidable death but there were additional questions raised about whether the mental health system was worse for BME – ethnicity of the sisters.

How British are you?

Then the Westminster establishment added a further hurdle to naturalisation in 2005 when it introduced the Life in the UKcitizenship test. While it was meant to help judge basic languages proficiency and understanding of Britain, and is quite easy to pass, especially with the preparation guide, it has become additional source of resentment because of the iniquitous status of need to have it to remain here permanently being different for people from different parts of the world. For example, a European did not need to take the test nor needed to have even the most basic language skills nor needed any other tedious Home Office paperwork. An Irish person from West of Ireland, speaking only Irish and with little knowledge of Britain can still come-stay-settle here while the most desirable foreigner from beyond the western world, and so more likely a non-white, will be denied settlement without this test. The test has also been lampooned as a cheap trivia quiz of little value to “living British values” or even integrating well in the society. It is just another additional hurdle that has been seen statistically to apply to and obstruct more non-whites than whites regardless of their value to this society and ability to live a useful life here.

I have done well in quizzes. For example, last year, I participated in a non-trivia quiz hosted by a British Learned Body that combined specialist knowledge and British general knowledge in equal measures. I ended up winning this quiz competing with many worthy competitors representing some of the cleverest people in this country, most of whom had lived longer in this country than I had and many also represented the most respected researchers and professionals in the field. All of us, of course, were there voluntarily, because of our interest in quizzes and so the standard was far higher to begin with. Even as I won this quiz last year, and even as I have taken deep interest in British history & culture, and even as I have significantly above-British-average English vocabulary, so I have thought about the iniquitous nature of the test. I would be delighted to take it if it became a common test for all who travel on British passport and so as representative of this land we all love. Perhaps that will reduce the number of drunken louts and hooligans involved in punch-ups who disgrace this country abroad, but I would be quite reluctant to be asked to take this test, paying its fee, after 20 years of contribution to this society and a proven above average understanding of the English language and British history & culture, if it is ok for people to grow up and become citizens by default without showing an equal competence.

Among British history & culture, I have studied in some depth and with considerable interest the constitutional history of Britain (I have also studied written constitutions and constitutional histories of a number of other nations). I know, for example, that with the decisive Battle of Naseby on               14 June 1645, the parliament established its sovereignty, forever disposing any pretentions of divine right to rule that British monarch might have held until that point. I am also aware that the Parliament Act of 1911 effectively transferred the sovereignty to the House of Commons. Yet, last year, the Head of State, under recommendation by the Head of Government, without approval of (or even consultation with) the House of Commons, prorogued the parliament. It sadly needed this country expenditure of additional time and money (which was no doubt clocked against our GNP) to be told what was extremely clear to anyone with an elementary familiarity with British constitutional history. When our head of State and Head of Government are willing to show such ignorance of our constitution, then it is not clear to me that I need to be ahead of those whose role it is to defend the constitution, in taking a test of Britishness. There is a further unanswered question as to whether the Head of State did not understand the constitutional basis after nearly 70 years in her role or, as it seems more likely, whether another aspect of her hereditary role “to be seen and not heard” prevented her from defending the constitution and why she appeared to have failed in requiring the Head of Government to seek leave from the House of Commons before proroguing parliament. In either case, it was not a circumstance that we as a nation could be proud of. It also highlights my point that frontline operatives – whether police, or immigration officers, or parliamentary administrators for that matter, can be in an unenviable position, when those in position of power are not thoughtful enough as to how they exercise that power and only hear applause generated in their own echo chambers.

Naturalisation Levy

With bits and bobs like the citizenship ceremony and the Britishness test added to the mandatory cost of naturalisation and with the overall cost raised rapidly and above the rate of inflation, the cost of naturalisation has grown excessively and beyond means of many low-paid foreign nationals long based in this country and performing vital public functions. The naturalisation fee currently stands at £1330, including £80 compulsory fee for the ceremony – more than a day’s wages of many low paid workers, plus an additional £50 for the compulsory trivia quiz often called the Britishness test. Overall this represents over a month’s wages for many of our workers.

As for me, had the authorities provided me opportunity to take a sensible pledge of nationality in the mid-2000s I would long be a British national at a fraction of the current price. In the meanwhile, besides contribution of skills, taxes, etc, I have been giving my time freely to a number of worthy causes, including, right now, 3 public appointments, two other voluntary national roles of similar standing, and two other voluntary regional roles, including chairing a charity. Through just my MoJ Public Appointment over the last 5 years, I have provided significantly over £1400 of critical service freely to this society. Additionally, as this role requires periodic vetting, the authorities know more about me than about most British citizens who have lived here all their lives, which means there are no checks remaining to be carried out on me to establish that I am likely to be a benign British national and so no justification for considering additional fee for such checks. The question is, does the Westminster establishment acknowledge and value such contribution or whether naturalisation is just a sordid purchase one makes after lying under oath and everyone should focus on making as much money for themselves and keep as much of it as they can get away with.

One would not need to do any of this if one happened to be born in the Irish speaking western part of Ireland. Even if one can not speak a single word of English or has made a single penny’s contribution to our economy, one would be able to live here with all the rights and privileges of a naturalised citizen if one were only born in Ireland, even as one enjoys these privileges at the moment born in Europe, and other privileges that might make life in Britain fairly easy with ability to visit and do business without visa if one were born in most nations that happen to be white majority. The rules are not formulated for white people but in the manner in which they are applied, they overwhelmingly favour white people regardless of their contribution to Britain or commitment to British values.

British Terrorist?

Shamima Begum, born in Britain, a British Citizen, travelled in February 2015 on a British passport and found her way to join an organisation that has committed Crimes against Humanity and was found again in February 2019, when the British Home Secretary issued an order revoking her British Citizenship. I have thought long and hard about implications of the decision, its legal basis and consequences to BME community relations. It is possible that she is a significant risk. It is also possible that the Home Secretary is aware of intelligence, perhaps obtained through covert methods, or perhaps strong enough to consider her probably dangerous but not strong enough to stand in a British court of law, that she poses imminent risk if allowed to return to Britain. It is also probable that many in this country will be quite content for her to face justice in Iraq or Syria for crimes against humanity that her outfit has perpetrated in those nations, even if the sentence were more severe than what a British court would give. The public though is extremely uneasy about the devious mechanism that has been used to strip her of her British citizenship. The public might be supportive for such person to be made stateless (by amending law) or considered a de-facto national of Iraq or Syria, where she went to live, but to use our ability to trace her ancestry to a non-white foreign land and to use the fact that that nation allows for citizenship by ancestry (though is very clear that they have no intention of extending citizenship to her) to take an action that can not be taken otherwise sends a far more dangerous signal in context of BME community relations and there appears a general agreement on this both within our wider society of different races and among those who focus their research into these matters, for example colleagues I have met at events of institutions like the International Centre for Study of Radicalisation based at King’s College. This is because there have been other instances of individuals proven to have committed serious crimes whose ancestry can be traced back to nations that offer citizenship by ancestry. For example, there is no shortage of British serious criminals who can trace their ancestry to Ireland.  I have however never heard any government suggest that they should thus suddenly be treated as Irish or to use their potential Irishness to throw them in the Irish Sea when they have lived their entire lives as British Citizens. The decision, however pragmatic it might have felt to the Home Secretary at that time, might nevertheless come across as discriminatory in practice against BME, certainly to those who have already felt discrimination by the authorities at every stage and who were quite willing to come out as large crowd in the middle of a pandemic to make their feelings known. Any argument that the Home Secretary too was BME would be countered by his ethnicity being different to hers and, in fact, of a nation that committed one of the worst crimes against humanity against people of her ancestors’ nation, during latter half of 20th century. Whatever compelled the then Home Secretary to take that dubious decision, this committee needs to look into legislative reforms where this country could be protected through sound and just law without resorting to such dubious decisions that will further lose trust of the BME community.

Conclusion

I hope this committee will realise why the public has so little trust in the Westminster Establishment, why even the most capable and well-meaning frontline workers, among them Police Officers, feel despair when they are let down by the Westminster Establishment living in its bubble, and why BME communities so often feel discriminated.

I hope this committee will look into the many aspects, often quite subtle, of conscious, subconscious or unconscious bias communicated through police actions, inactions and incapability. I also hope this committee will recognise that processes defined narrowly within the Westminster bubble and applied mechanically to very diverse situations can become a major source of discrimination; that there is a strong case for being sensible & liberal and think of fairness taking into account individual circumstances and long term value to the society; that it is worth thinking long-term about immigration, looking at the immigrant as a whole person with many gifts and requirements and not just as a dollop of a specific skill in short supply at a given point; that it is important to do our best to help immigrants develop and live a fulfilling life; that unfairness is exacerbated within BME communities by compounding effect of additional element of immigration and of procedures that are seen to favour, in practice, the white races, whether or not that was the conscious thought behind their design.

Finally, it is worth appreciating that there is often a lag between policy and practice, that implementing policies well requires significant patience and oversight and that too many changes can end up overwhelming operations into dysfunction as has happened to various arms of the Home Office quite regularly.

 

June 2020