Opinion

Life in the UK test: How many of us would pass the British citizenship test?

For those applying for UK citizenship a focus on British values should be vital when many politicians seem to have forgotten theirs

A hand holding a British passport

Image: Ethan Wilkinson on Unsplash

Which tribe came to Britain from northern Europe in AD 410? Britain was victorious against which countries at the Battle of Trafalgater? Who was the first man to run the four-minute mile? 

Answer these questions and you could win British citizenship!  

My better half has just taken the Life in the UK test. It’s one of many steps that could lead to a passport, and allay the fear that the hostile environment could become so intense that people who have spent a dozen years here, married a native and contributed thousands to the economy may at some point be told to go back where they came from. 

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The above are some of the 24 multiple-choice questions she had to answer. Score 18 to pass. Living such a culturally rich life together, I was confident we could Slumdog Millionaire the test. 

Who invented the television? Well, on sunny Sunday afternoons we had a habit of visiting a fish and chip shop in Helensburgh, taking our takeaway to a bench by the side of the Clyde next to a monument for local hero John Logie Baird. Why did Henry VIII fall out with the pope? Luckily the soundtrack of histo-remix musical Six has been played a lot recently. In which months does Easter fall? Being raised in Italy will cover that. 

You can take practice Life in the UK tests online. I recommend the reality check. Despite thinking myself to be among the smartest people I know, I failed as often as I passed. I don’t know the maximum amount you can claim through a small claims procedure in Northern Ireland, nor the exact number of AMs sitting in the Senedd. 

You can resit as often as you like at £75 a go. Beyond this trivia tax, there’s then the citizenship application costing £1,580 – increased by £250 last week. (In contrast, the £372 fee to renounce British citizenship seems like a bargain.) But besides being preparation for the British pastimes of pub quizzing or shouting at contestants on The Chase, there’s little in the Life in the UK test about values, attitudes or behaviour. Shouldn’t it examine queuing etiquette or whether somebody complains about food in a restaurant or just grumbles under their breath before telling the waiter “all good, thanks”? 

On the same day as my partner was going through security scanners at the test centre, having her hair searched for hidden electronic devices, home secretary Suella Braverman was declaring that multiculturalism had “failed”. Last week she – the child of Mauritian and Kenyan immigrants appointed by the UK’s first Asian prime minister – followed that up at the Tory conference by warning of a “hurricane” of migration. 

While I’ve been studying about Life in the UK, there are few positive examples of Britishness demonstrated by our elected representatives. 

Where is the compassion, politeness, respect, self-deprecation, feeling shame for telling or peddling a lie? If these were qualities measured to assess your suitability for British citizenship, how many ministers would pass? 

There will be dozens of dedicated public servants across parliament. There are wrong ’uns on all sides too. But government seems to be steered towards extremes by people who are at best delusional, at worst deliberate liars, as they amplify misinformation, attack imaginary meat taxes and legitimise conspiracy theories that are easily debunked. 

Another question in my wife’s test (which she passed, by the way) asked about the responsibilities of a British citizen. Options included looking after your family, contributing to your community and criticising the government. 

You’re not told which answers are correct. We don’t know whether the test deemed the right to criticise the government as a right answer. But until it’s taken away from us, we might as well make the most of that privilege. 

Steven MacKenzie is deputy editor of the Big IssueRead more of his writing here.

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