In declaring her intention to rip up the UN refugee convention, the Home Secretary is creating the extreme politics she espouses to fear, says George Pitcher. Until the UK looks after its global neighbour, our migration problems cannot be solved
In her keynote speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC this week, Suella Braverman warned the right-wing think tank that Europe was at a “critical juncture” when it came to global migration challenges. Failure to address illegal migration would, she said, “create the conditions for more extreme politics.”
It was an odd sort of warning from the Home Secretary, as she appears simultaneously to be putting down her marker for leading this more extreme version of politics. That much is evident in her declared desire to dismantle the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, with all its annoying commitments to protecting the world’s weakest peoples.
We are called to serve our neighbours, not lock ourselves in gilded economic castles
So where can we find the gospel in relation to Braverman’s intent? I ask that question not in a rhetorical, more-Christian-than-thou sort of way, which itself would not be very gospel. I mean, specifically, does she speak good news for the poor? The poor here, as in the Gospel of Luke, are not just the economically deprived but the oppressed, the marginalised and the vulnerable. In other words, the poor in spirit.
An old problem
Braverman has form in this area. She has already expressed the merits of taking Britain out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. Yet it is widely acknowledged that the scale of the migration problem currently facing Europe is a frightening one.
As far back as 2010, Germany’s then-chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that Europe’s multicultural experiment “had utterly failed”. About the same time, French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, raised issues of national “identity”. Even David Cameron, one of the UK’s more lackadaisical prime ministers attacked “state multiculturism” and called for “muscular liberalism”.
What sets Braverman apart is her apparent contempt for human rights legislation, as revealed in her choice of words that it was her “dream” to see asylum seekers despatched on a plane to Rwanda. So far, she dreams on.
In God’s image
At the root of her hostility to human rights seems to be an almost sociopathic disregard for human dignity, which was at the core of the West’s post-war resolutions to guard it. Her attack on the Refugee Convention is an attack on the whole UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights that spawned it. That piece of legislation places human dignity as its firm foundation and states, as its title affirms, that its quality is universal.
Dignity is not only at the heart of the declaration; it is at its head. Its preamble starts with the statement that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” It’s very first article states that: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
The UN was not and is not a Christian institution, but its Declaration is deeply congruent with the essential Christian doctrine of imago dei, that all humans bear the image of God. It further resonates with the gospel notion of neighbour, and particularly with the answer to the question: “Who is my neighbour?”
Braverman seems to think little of this notion of the neighbour, the desperate person in need. Her only imperative is to turn them away with “strong borders”. In attempting to answer the question in global terms, she passes by on the other side.
Who is our neighbour?
This is not to suggest a migration free-for-all as an alternative. This is the position of which we’re wantonly accused when we point a condemnatory finger at Braverman and her policies. “Well what would you do?” critics ask, as if the issue of migration offers only a binary choice. The question of who is our neighbour is much more demanding than that. It requires us to cross an emotional road to aid those in need.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights is deeply congruent with Christian doctrine
Perversely, Braverman quotes an American study, that states that only after countries reach a per-capita income of $10,000 dollars does an appetite for emigration subside. This she takes to be an absurd greed, the response to which can only be to stop migrants coming to our shores. But the alternative aspiration should perhaps be to develop economies to levels that dissipate the motivation for migration. If Northern and Western economies did so, they would not only serve their own purposes, but would be acting as good neighbours at a global level, too.
We are called to serve our neighbours in the world, rather than to lock ourselves away in gilded economic castles. To answer that call isn’t going to be easy. But it is way too easy to assume, as Braverman does, that the UK’s best interests are served by isolating itself from the challenges of migration.
Politicians are elected to serve the United Kingdom but both the gospel, and the UN declarations that it informs, recognise that our kingdom is not of this world. Unfortunately, Braverman’s is entirely so.