Could you become a UK citizen?

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I’m not being flippant, because I couldn’t. Here, take Theresa May’s test.

I got 50%, scraping a third. To pass you need a solid first, 75%. So what conclusion should I draw? That I’m terrifically ignorant of Shakespeare, electoral law and the welfare system? Probably. But should that disqualify me, as it does for so many aspirant citizens, from being British?

In 1991 a skinny Somali boy stepped off the plane with his father, wholly ignorant of the customs, rules and language of the country for which 21 years later he would win two Olympic gold medals. Draped in the Union flag, who could begrudge the awesome Mo Farah the respect that fellow patriots owe him?

Cultural assimilation and social integration do not require a sound knowledge of trivia. We used to have a more American attitude to immigrants; namely, that their costly and perilous journey to these shores itself demonstrated a willingness to become British.  Later, amidst fears that Enoch Powell’s infamous warning would prove prophetic, the government would limit mass immigration, a policy itself later reversed by New Labour’s acquiescence to EU expansion.

Mo, who Cherwell interviewed in April, had a British father, so his path to the UK was assured. But there are thousands like him – many from Commonwealth countries with good English skills – who are denied the citizenship they fully deserve and we need. At its most acute hospitals now lack the qualified doctors who are ready and willing to work here. Less tangibly but no less seriously, we are losing out on the talent of thousands of tomorrow’s business, cultural and sports stars who will not get into the UK under the Home Secretary’s rules.

There is indeed ‘good’ immigration and ‘bad’ immigration, but a general knowledge test is hopeless at distinguishing the two. The ‘points’ system adopted by the last government, which prioritises skilled workers, is closer to the mark but it neglects the ability of ‘unskilled’ workers to strive and pursue self-improvement in their adopted country. This is especially true considering they do not impose a burden on public services and do not push down wages.

The truth is that good citizenship – and this applies to us all – rests on hard work, community identification and a willingness to ‘muck in’, to make sacrifices. How on earth do you devise a test for all of that? Except winning a gold medal, obviously. 

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