The return to Britain of Binyam Mohamed after a prolonged spell at George Bush’s pleasure in Guantanamo Bay is a cause for rejoicing; there can be no two ways about that. So why, amid all the smiles, do I find it hard to stifle some unease?You suspect correctly, Mary, if the conversations I’ve had (and overheard) on this subject are an example…
It has nothing to do with what Mohamed might or might not have done in Pakistan, Afghanistan or anywhere else. Nor do I believe, after all he has endured, that he will present a danger to the state or the British public. No, the reason is different, and not very charitable. But I suspect it might be widely shared.
Mohamed is an Ethiopian national. After arriving in Britain at the age of 15, he unsuccessfully sought asylum. In 2000, at the age of 22, he received exceptional leave to remain – which remained his status when he was arrested by Pakistan immigration officials two years later. He is not, and never has been, a British citizen.And there’s the rub.
Hailing his release yesterday, the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said it was “the result of a number of years of very hard work by officials”. But how much responsibility, legal or moral, does a country really owe to those who have neither been born into citizenship nor sworn allegiance to the Crown?I think the answer is ‘Not many’. And there are good reasons for that – over and above the practical ones of cost:
Granted that the UK gave priority to securing the release from Guantanamo of those who were British citizens, perhaps citizenship demonstrated its advantage. But how many governments would have shown such a duty of care to a “resident” ?
One view might be that the UK took a good and enlightened stance, fully justified by common humanity. But what were Foreign Office officials not working on, when they were negotiating for the release of these British residents? Is this a reasonable use of staff and taxpayers’ money?It really is hard to say ‘Yes’, no matter how liberal your views or how much you might believe the UK to be a champion of justice.
She goes on to highlight Brown’s ‘Britishness’ campaign, and the discrepancy between the benefits available to citizens and those merely ‘resident’ here.
But encouragement to take out citizenship, by itself, is unlikely to reduce the ethnic self-segregation and “parallel lives” that have so concerned ministers for a decade. Indeed, by progressively toughening citizenship requirements, the Government sends out a contradictory message.It’s beginning to resemble a scene familiar to birdwatchers – the fat cuckoo chick, a totally separate species from the nest-owners, yet gaining the benefits of food and protection merely by virtue of ‘residence’:
Nor is it the only one. The other relates to the comparative status and entitlements enjoyed by “residents” and “citizens”. As anyone who has collected the utility bills and council tax statements needed to claim almost everything, including access to the NHS, residency, not citizenship, is the prime qualification.
For some there is actually a downside to seeking citizenship: it is expensive, can be time-consuming, and brings you into contact with an officialdom you might prefer to keep at bay. Nor, for citizens, is there much of an upside. If you spend periods abroad, you disqualify yourself from NHS treatment. Almost the only advantage of citizenship is a vote for your MP.Simply put, there is no advantage to being a citizen of the UK, versus being a resident (except the ability to choose from a wide range of lying crooks to vote into power, that is…).
And that is a dangerous state of affairs to have drifted into, for all it makes the usual suspects feel good about themselves, and able to trumpet the UK as a ‘tolerant’ place. Because they do not see the growing anger among UK citizens, of all creeds and colours, as the fat, greedy cuckoos in the nest are swallowing more and more of the resources while remaining forever ‘separate’, and allowed to remain that way by increasing legislation to protect their ‘rights’.
And like most roads to Hell, this one has been paved by ‘good intentions’:
There are good reasons why so many entitlements flow from residency. The idea is that there should not be two tiers of legal residents. Barring non-citizens from the NHS could make disease more widespread, for everyone, and the same goes for housing. It is not only morally wrong to leave whole families homeless, but damages the quality of life for all. Solidarity is the mark of a civilised society.Yet, what we are building here is the antithesis of solidarity.
And if it’s ‘morally wrong’ to leave whole families homeless, how much more ‘morally wrong’ is it to tell people with an allegiance to this country that they must continue to accept people from outside the country, with no allegiance to it and no compulsion to have any allegiance to it?
The parent birds are beginning to realise the damage the cuckoos are doing to their species as a whole:
Yet the question of “fairness” is rising inexorably up the political agenda, and there are hints that ministers are considering a more direct link between citizenship and access to public services. Unwelcome though such a shift might be to many, it is one that this government has brought upon itself. It has allowed the impression to gain hold that citizenship, because it confers little advantage, has no worth. In this respect, the best thing Binyam Mohamed can do, once he regains his strength, is to join a citizenship class and earn his passport.Will he? Why should he, as you’ve just pointed out?
And the odious ‘human rights’ lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith trails Mohamed’s wake like a hungry jackal:
Speaking from London's RAF Northolt, Mr Mohamed's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said he was "100 per cent certain" that the truth about his client's treatment would be made public.Of course he did. After all, he’s not paying – we are. And the more taxpayer’s money poured into the cause of Mohamed, the more publicity is gained by self-satisfied Stafford-Smith:
He said that Mr Mohamed would be "very glad" to defend any charges levelled against him at a trial and pledged to pursue the case until those responsible admit their role in his torture.
Mr Stafford Smith said: "One thing we can clearly say is that the great British public have the right to know about what was done to someone at the behest of the British government, as does the American people.Can we do a deal? We’ll take Mohamed in but we get to export Stafford-Smith to a country with real injustices, where he can pontificate to his hearts content. Saudi Arabia will do nicely…
"I'm 100 per cent certain that the people will learn the truth in the long run.
"For the last 800 years in Britain we have had a process for dealing with accusations and it's called a trial. In the immortal words of George Bush - 'Bring it on'.
"If people want to charge Binyam Mohamed, we would be very glad to face them in court. Binyam Mohamed has nothing to hide.
Mr Stafford Smith, of the pressure group Reprieve, added: "What we in Britain need to do is to make up for some of the things in the past and if the British Government was, as I contend, deeply involved in the torture that poor Binyam had to go through, the least we owe to him is to give him his home back.Except, as Mary points out, it wasn’t his home. Was it, Clive?
"He lost his home because of that process."
And you are just another do-gooder hastening us down the road to the dissolution of the qualities that have made this country, historically, such a great place to live….