May 21, 2001
Britain is going through the motions of an election. As always, there is the usual doom mongering and hysteria. Some of this hysteria surrounds the issue of immigration. William Hague, the Conservative leader, has ratcheted up the rhetoric on immigration, claiming that Britain is a "soft touch" for "bogus" asylum seekers. The Labour Party and their Liberal Democrat allies have accused Hague of covert racism. So far, so normal.
Where this becomes less than normal Is that another person who condemned the leader of the opposition was a United Nations High Commission for Refugees. That's right, a leader of a democratic party condemned by a group of nations that include such paragons of human rights as Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Syria. This is not the real shame of it. That the UN is a nest of hypocrites should be well known to all but the terminally stupid however there is another issue. I pay their wages. As a taxpayer in a developed country, my taxes went to paying for this. If a career civil servant in Britain made such a blatantly partisan statement, then they would be out. In the United Nations, the bureaucrats are above the law, Zimbabwe style.
The irony of the situation is that Hague's plan is not radical. He accepts that political asylum is something Britain should continue to offer, and presumably continue to subsidise through the benefits system. He denounces MPs who call for a rethink of immigration policy beyond carefully set Central Office lines. He does not protest that Balkan refugees who come through Italy and France could happily stay in either of those two countries. Furthermore, he does not criticise judges who clearly move beyond the spirit and letter of the law in consistently ruling for an open borders policy (unlike the Labour Home Secretary, Jack Straw). The issues are not just those of immigration and multiculturalism, but of public spending and in the question of legislation on the extent of democracy in the UK. Hague is silent yet even his silence is rewarded by condemnation from the United Nations.
Our old friend the United Nations again pops up. Why can't we change our laws so that we can restrict benefits to political refugees, the United Nations won't let us. Why do we have to put up with judges usurping the lawmaking prerogative on Parliament? They are basing their decisions on the UN Charter of Human Rights. In short, we are not allowing a proper debate on immigration, simply because of our membership of a corrupt and undemocratic body. I believe that immigration is overall a good thing, but it has the capacity to hurt a large minority of the population. For this reason, the issue needs debate and honest discussion something it is not receiving. An open debate may lead to a settlement that is considerably less liberal than I would like, but the alternative of a growth of the neo-fascist right is far worse. So any attempt to suppress the debate is instrumental in encouraging fascism and this should be dealt with accordingly.
It's time to move on from the United Nations. In many ways, it is harmless, and it is certainly less urgent to deal with than the European Union or NATO. However, as long as they interfere in our democratic affairs we have to say goodbye. The policies of the United Nation's on refugees were formed in the 1950s, in a time before mass jet-transport or the extremes of the welfare state. In a democratic society, we would change a policy to suit the times. Unfortunately, the United Nations is no democracy. Time to sling our hook.
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