Sometimes it is the small things that tell you everything you need to know about the madness afflicting British politics at present. Consider this small detail from the new immigration bill:
All proposed marriages and civil partnerships involving a non-EEA national with limited or no immigration status in the UK are to be referred by registrars to the Home Office.
This will give the Home Office more time and scope to identify and investigate suspected sham marriages and civil partnerships and to take effective enforcement action.
Why does this matter? Because it alters the relationship between citizens and the state. Once upon a time the state presumed you were innocent unless there was evidence to suggest an offence had been committed. That no longer applies. Now the state assumes you are guilty until cleared by the authorities. It is a large and important and revealing change, one that speaks to the miserable temper of our times.
Henceforth British citizens marrying, say, Mexicans or Koreans or Kenyans will have to prove to the state their love is genuine and not a ‘sham‘. What a dismal, mean-spirited, demeaning state of affairs.
There is every difference in the world between investigating marriages suspected of taking advantage of the immigration system and presuming that all marriages between Britons and non-EEA foreigners are an attempt to circumvent the system.
Few people – not even me – object to enforcing existing legislation but that’s very different from an approach that presumes – at some cost, incidentally – everyone is probably gaming the system.
In any case, it is hardly a large problem. Last year some 1,300 sham marriages were discovered. Doubtless some others were undetected. So be it. Better that a few such arrangements pass through the net than the net be cast so widely as to catch all citizens who dare to taunt the state by taking a non-european spouse.
Ministers and their defenders will no doubt insist that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear from this new presumption of suspiciousness. This, as so often, gets everything utterly wrong. A decent government admits that citizens should have nothing to prove without there being good reason to suppose they might have committed an offence.
Loving a foreigner is no such good reason. But with immigration the frenzy of the moment it is plainly too much to hope that the state might recognise that and, just for once, act in a decent fashion. No, you are presumed to be up to no good, presumed to be guilty. How telling. How revealing. How shameful. How Big Brother.
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