The British state is tearing up the social contract

Our governing elites are a menace to both liberty and security.

Neil Davenport

Topics Politics UK

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The UK government’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill spent last week ping-ponging between the House of Commons and House of Lords. At the same time, the very border crisis the Rwanda scheme is meant to address only got deeper. In the past week alone, hundreds more migrants crossed the English Channel illegally in small boats.

The continued inability of the powers-that-be to tackle Britain’s migrant crisis goes beyond the repeated blocking of the government’s ill-fated Rwanda scheme, whether by the Lords or by the courts. You do not have to agree with this policy of processing and resettling migrants in central Africa to spot a problem here. Time and again, we see that our elites lack the political will to defend our nation’s borders.

This lack of will is endangering our national security. We know only too well that Britain’s borders have become absurdly lax. Take the case of Abdul Ezedi, who entered the UK illegally in 2016 and was then convicted of sexual assault two years later. Because he was never deported, he was able to carry out an acid attack on a woman and her two daughters in London in January this year. Or take the terrorist, Salman Abedi, who was able to travel back and forth to Libya, where he gained military experience from his Islamist contacts, with barely any questions asked. He went on to murder 22 people in the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017.

The political class’s inability to control the UK’s borders tells us something broader, too. It points to how the state is slowly withdrawing from its constitutional role as a protector of its citizens. After all, it’s not only losing control of the borders – it’s also becoming increasingly reluctant to deal with violent and petty crime in neighbourhoods across the UK. By allowing the state to abandon this role as ‘a night watchman’ or protector, Britain’s political class is in very real danger of undoing the social contract itself.

For key thinkers in the liberal tradition, a nation is born of a social contract between individuals and the state. Individuals give up some of their power (and freedom) to the state, which in turn uses that power to protect individuals’ rights to life, liberty and property. When the state’s ability to protect citizens weakens and decays, then citizenship itself suffers. What is the point of being a citizen of a nation that cannot defend you from harm or uphold your rights?

The vote to leave the EU in 2016 brought the social contract back into focus. One of the key political motivations behind Brexit was people’s demand for the UK to act like a cohesive nation state again. They wanted their citizenship to have real meaning once more.

This is why immigration is such an important issue right now. Our political elites’ unwillingness to control Britain’s borders – their unwillingness to safeguard their own citizens – hollows out what it means to be a citizen of a nation state. This impacts negatively just as much on migrants as it does on Brits themselves. It undermines the very thing that migrants aspire to be – namely, citizens of the UK.

The irony to all this is that while the state is abandoning its role as a protector of citizens and their rights, it is simultaneously trying to curb citizens’ liberties. It seeks to limit our freedoms in many spheres of life, from what we eat and drink to what we can and can’t say to each other.

The state is increasingly intruding upon and regulating even the most mundane, everyday behaviour. Activities such as feeding the birds or even sunbathing have been recast by officialdom as ‘anti-social behaviour’ or a ‘nuisance’ to others. They have been made potentially subject to so-called Community Protection Notices, which carry fines or instructions to attend ‘awareness-raising courses’.

So we now have the worst of both worlds. We have a state that is unwilling to protect individuals from harm while being all too willing to curb their freedoms and trample over their rights.

The great liberal thinker, John Locke, held that citizens’ obligation to obey civil government – under the terms of the social contract – was conditional upon the government protecting the rights of each person. He argued that if it fails to do so, then it is entirely legitimate for a people to remove it.

Locke offers a warning to today’s clueless politicians. By undoing the social contract, they could well be signing their own death warrants.

Neil Davenport is a writer based in London.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK


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