Citizens Don't Need Goldsmith's Report

By Howe, Darcus | New Statesman (1996), March 24, 2008 | Go to article overview

Citizens Don't Need Goldsmith's Report


Howe, Darcus, New Statesman (1996)


The headlines that followed the publication of Lord Goldsmith's citizenship review caused a disturbance in the mind of my 11-year-old grandchild, who is off to a south London comprehensive this year. His grandmother telephoned asking me to confirm that he is a citizen of the United Kingdom. He was suddenly besieged by demons of doubt that overnight it had become compulsory to swear allegiance to the Queen before he is designated a citizen of this land, in which he was born, and in which both his parents were born.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Goldsmith has interrupted the smooth flow of his relations with his fellow citizens. Now he thinks he is a nobody, drifting in the dark until he raises his right hand to the Queen, ending with a thumping rendition of "Land of Hope and Glory", or perhaps "Rule Britannia".

I am not being frivolous. I vaguely remember its being announced that Goldsmith had been given the task of exploring some remote constitutional issues. I paid no attention. This was compensation, I thought, for his utter failure as attorney general, particularly in his advice, or lack of it, to Tony Blair on the Iraq War. His report would gather dust and be forgotten.

I had learned in my legal studies that there was no written constitution for the United Kingdom, but that this serves us well because it allows great flexibility in relations between state and citizen. Goldsmith does not see it this way. This is what he says: "It is easy to imagine that British citizenship should denote a strong connection with membership of the community in the UK; that British citizenship denotes a strong commitment to, and connection with, this country. However, that is not historically the case."

He continues: "In effect, the history of legislation on citizenship and nationality has led to a complex scheme lacking coherence or any clear and self-contained statement of the rights and responsibilities of citizens. …

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