The decision to introduce a form of citizenship test for those seeking to acquire British nationality is certain to prove quite contentious. Like the cultivated stutter that said nothing but said it all, Britishness has traditionally defied definition. To many, it was a contrived distortion of being English, Scottish or even Irish. To others, it was just a useful travel document that permitted a holder to cross national boundaries without too much fuss and hindrance. Alternatively, it was a condition of mind, a romantic commitment to stodgy food and appalling behaviour after football matches. Can these different and sometimes conflicting impulses be reduced to a Home Office-sponsored test of good citizenship, maybe even preceded by a session in a crammer' More to the point, what is the validity of Britishness in a country that is itself grappling with the existential dilemma of being in Europe, but without being European' It is unlikely that these and many other associated questions will be answered to the satisfaction of the sceptics. Just as loyalty to the country could not always be gauged by the simple Tebbit test during cricket matches, nationality cannot always be measured by a multiple-choice test devised by a motley group of sociologists and social workers, with proportional representation for ethnic minorities.
That the British government will, despite criticism, persist with the citizenship test has little to do with racial bias. Over the years, the British passport has become a travel document of convenience for immigrants whose empathy for Britain is zero and whose contribution to the British economy is by way of receiving welfare handouts. Some of these problems came to the fore during the riots in Bradford, Leeds and Oldham in 2001. Far from producing citizens well-versed in multiple cultures, it was discovered that a regime of multi-culturalism had perpetuated ghettos of immigrants at odds with the host society. To make matters worse, it was found that many “British” Asians didn’t even have a rudimentary command of English, despite living in Britain for decades. Add the problem of asylum seekers from the Balkans and North Africa — where even the Commonwealth connection is absent — and the British concern with permissive nationality laws becomes more comprehensible. In the polarized post-9/11 world, there is justified alarm over countries being subverted by naturalized citizens who don’t even share the values of the host country. These cannot all be addressed through a test of citizenship but at least a passing familiarity with the dominant language of communication — in this case, English — isn’t asking for too much.