The government revealed they might allow individuals to sit the UK’s citizenship test in Cornish. This was announced in response to a question by Baroness Smith of Basildon, a Labour Peer and Shadow Leader of the House of Lords. The move is all the more surprising because it appears the government’s decision to consider a test in Cornish came after Smith’s question — suggesting this was not a change being planned previously.
In 2014, the Tory-led coalition government granted protected minority status for the Cornish. Its effect is that the government and public bodies are required to consider the equality of the Cornish in decision-making alongside previously recognised protected groups: the Scots, Welsh and Irish. Few commentators believed this announcement carried much significance beyond its symbolism at the time.
The exception was me. An immigration law expert, I recognised that this change granting the Cornish protected equal treatment with the Scots, Welsh and Irish would mandate significant changes to the Life in the UK citizenship test which carries virtually no mention of Cornish history or culture. It does require test applicants to know the patron saints, flags, national foods and more for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. No revisions have yet been made to the test since its current third edition was published in 2013 — the year prior to this change.
Replying to Smith’s parliamentary question, Baroness Williams of Trafford said Theresa May’s government “will consider whether it would be appropriate to make the test available in Cornish as part of the protected minority status”. Williams is Minister of State for the Home Office and a Tory Peer.
The government’s response is hugely surprising. Since the test was first launched, it could be taken in English, Scots Gaelic or Welsh. My research was the first to reveal that the test was sat only once in Scots Gaelic and never in Welsh. The coalition government ended all non-English citizenship tests since October 2013 — which did not raise objections in Parliament by either Plaid Cymru or SNP.
Why is the government considering launching the UK citizenship test in Cornish — when it only recently stopped producing it in Scots Gaelic or Welsh?
The only explanation appears to be that the government does not fully grasp the implications for granting the Cornish protected minority status. This does not in fact require producing the test in Cornish since it is not produced in Scots Gaelic or Welsh — and so the Cornish would not lack equality with the Scots or Welsh. But what it does mandate is information about the Cornish flag, patron saint, history and more are included in the citizenship test or the government risks continuing to breach their protected minority status. Not even Cornish pasties get a mention. This must change.
I would not be surprised if the government was not challenged on this point shortly. After several years of inaction, time is running out and they may be forced to make a change if an appeal is made.
Otherwise, the government is at risk of creating an unnecessary anomaly launching tests in the smallest British language while ending it for more popular alternatives. The Scottish and Welsh nationalists didn’t protest when the change to English-only citizenship tests was introduced. I expect this will change should the test be in Cornish but their regional languages.
In short, this is yet another problem of the government’s own making. It need not have changed how tests are produced, declared a new protected status or make what appears to be an error in responding to Smith’s parliamentary question. But they have and such shambolic handling of nationality rules shows their lack of attention to detail on citizenship and immigration issues more generally symbolising a lack of seriousness about one of the public’s biggest concerns.