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Passport to freedom

Passport to freedom

15 November 2017

The first modern British passport was issued in 1914.  It was very different from the current version in many respects, but it did feature a photo, signature and a brief, written description of the holder.  Over 70 per cent of UK citizens have passports, compared to around 46 per cent of Americans.

The last line of each verse of the American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, exalts the US as “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.  I daresay there are those who would question the validity of this claim now that President Trump has extended his travel ban to bar the people of eight countries from entering the USA.  What do you think about this?  It’s an odd concept for anyone living in the UK, I think.  OK, we’re not perfect here (far from it), but I’d like to think we’re a very long way off closing our borders to entire nations.  I wonder what history will make of Mr. Trump’s actions – a courageous step or a cowardly move, an innovation or ill-conceived reactionism?  Time will undoubtedly tell.

One of our core British Values is Individual Liberty.  This means, among other things, being free to travel where we want and when we want.  Can you imagine being told you cannot enter America because you’re British?  Once upon a time, I would have said it could never happen but now I’m not so sure.  It wouldn’t be the first time in modern history that mad ideas have gathered so much popularity they become enshrined in law. 

As well as being able to travel abroad, we are also at liberty to travel wherever we like in our own country.  We take this for granted, but the citizens of some countries are not so fortunate.  There are still some nations where freedom of movement for its people is not so straightforward.  Many countries also use a system of national identity cards.  These are often compulsory for adults and must be shown to authorised officials on request.  Some countries issue non-compulsory ID cards, such as France, Japan and the USA.  The United Kingdom is in a rather exclusive group of countries where no official ID cards are issued.  These countries include Australia, Canada, Denmark, and Philippines. 

The UK government has thought about ID cards, even quite recently, but abandoned the idea.  We last had them here in 1952 as a legacy of World War II, but there has always been strong resistance in this country ever since.  There are, of course, two sides to the argument, but it seems to me that the introduction of compulsory ID cards would be a direct undermining of our Individual Liberty and, perhaps, the beginning of a slippery slope towards more restrictions to our freedom of movement. 

I prefer a largely forgotten lyric from verse 3 of our own national anthem to the “land of the free” claim of the Americans, in which we hope “that men should brothers be, and form one family, the wide world ov’er”.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  No passports or ID cards required!  Perhaps President Trump should be reminded of a famous quote from one of his esteemed predecessors, “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves” – Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865).  Food for thought.

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