“King of the who?”

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Pour obtenir la nationalité britannique, les immigrés en Grande-Bretagne vont devoir obtenir au moins 75% de réussite au nouveau questionnaire sur l’identité britannique. Un tel test existait déjà – il a été mis en place par les travaillistes, mais cette année le questionnaire subit de profonds changements exigeant des candidats qu’ils connaissent l’histoire, la culture et les valeurs du pays, depuis la bataille de Trafalgar jusqu’aux aux oeuvres de Kipling et des Monty Python. Ce test fait déjà naître des contestations. Qu’est-ce qu’un tel questionnaire implique vraiment ?

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The new test «Life in the UK» is meant to be more comprehensive than the previous one, therefore several topics are tackled like the principles of medieval land ownership, the invention of the hovercraft, the 2010 elections, the Beatles, Benjamin Britten, Purcell, the 20th century inventors of the IRM scanner or ticket dispenser… The test is meant to reduce the migratory balance only to the most qualified foreigners and to those who really want to live in Britain: people who truly share British values, explains Mark Harper, the Immigration Secretary. The British government stated that the former syllabus was useless on some points for example with its questions about water. It now wants to focus the new syllabus on the foundations of British identity. Thus, it would allow people to “participate in Great Britain’s life instead of explaining to people how to ask for social aid”. The State now considers that you have to share some values and to adopt a certain behaviour to be British. To be British, what matters is not to be born in Britain, but to feel British. It could be an interesting idea. In reality however the test was made to restrict immigration even more. Indeed, the new Home Office’s syllabus contains about 180 pages that teach Britishness. It makes it seem very difficult to be a “real Briton”.

This variety of subjects and the fact that the syllabus is very large shows that this questionnaire has not been made to encourage people to ask for British citizenship. Indeed the reform of the test and Britain’s growing Euroscepticism are evidence that  the country is dangerously closing in upon itself.

Moreover, the fact is that this test bases Britishness on factual or historical knowledge making many Britons “not really British”. A normal person born and raised in Britain may be unable to pass this test just because she doesn’t know Britain’s history perfectly or just because he’s not fond of Kipling’s novels. All these controversies made some associations react. Don Flynn, director of the Migrant’s Rights Network, explained that this test, far from encouraging migrants to integrate into British society, makes them feel poles apart from “real Britons”. This new immigration test provides an elitist view of Great Britain’s history which doesn’t necessarily match that of the average citizen.

Thus the difficulty of this test reveals how the debate over national identity serves to implement ideological reforms. The test is indeed not impartial as, for instance, it mentions «an orderly transition from empire to independence» without speaking about people who died in communal violence. Also, it doesn’t mention the minors’ strikes under Margaret Thatcher (84-85) nor does it mention the real reasons why Great-Britain engaged in the Iraq war against Saddam Hussein.

The problems aren’t just that the test is about reducing immigration but also that Britain’s “Long and Illustrious History” is exploited to inculcate patriotism, which is what Bernard Porter, an Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Newcastle, believes. He explains that British identity is not only defined by its history and that it is constantly evolving. Moreover, there are a lot of things that could determine British identity such as religion, region, class and many other criteria. A country’s identity is not to be reduced to some facts and values. But rather it is the result of conflicts and debates and the opposition to these values.

And If you think you could be British enough to pass the test, Take the quiz !

Johary RAKOTOARIVELO, Adrien PILLAUD and Brice FOURNIAUD

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