Small change for the UK – big implications for Islanders

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It’s not difficult to see how it came about. Forget the financial arguments advanced by the Department of Health. The call on NHS resources was but a gnat bite in comparison with all the cash haemorrhaging from institutional malpractice in Whitehall.

No: this vindictive little reversal of good-neighbourliness smacks of a thinly veiled punishment delivered by a Government with its back to the wall over its own record of financial mismanagement, seeking to publicly appease critics baying for the blood of offshore tax havens in UK waters – however erroneously labelled.

So here was a tasty burnt scapegoat offering for the visiting Mr Obama, the Pope and the chattering UK press. As a result, it will inconvenience any traveller – including legitimate bankers visiting here; it has already generated negative press in the travel industry, and will likely deal a further blow to our struggling tourist industry as elderly folk will inevitably find insurance hard to obtain.

The travel insurance aspect will make a visit to UK relatives virtually impossible for older CI residents, while, if they do secure cover, the main beneficiaries will be UK insurers.

But it follows a pattern. For all the big gestures, it is the small people who suffer.

Coming soon, under the new UK e-borders programme of travel data surveillance, if you fancy an impromptu sailing trip to France or other British islands, you’ll have had to advise the authorities at least 24-hours in advance of your plans – having first contacted the Almighty to ensure a favourable wind. Even the met office can’t do that!

It’s the more risible given the fact that Her Majesty’s Customs weren’t even aware that they’d be expected to undertake the draconian scrutinising of her loyal citizens. One more bow in the quiver of clever knee-jerk over-reaction, it will only hit legitimate activity; smugglers and the like are hardly likely to inform anyone about what they’ll be bringing ashore under the cloak of darkness.

I’m pretty sure the likely lads at Sangatte won’t be forming an orderly queue to fill in their forms 24 hours before jumping on an unsuspecting HGV rig en route across the Channel!

Now I know there’s a perfectly valid reason for vigilance and scrutiny. The shocking events of September 2001 in the United States and on the streets of London in 2005 swept away any vestige of a casual approach to border security. But the latest raft of measures introduced by an increasingly jittery Home Secretary pushes the plethora of restrictions on everyday law-abiding activity to an absurd level. What are we creating for ourselves?

The state apparatus can amass what it likes of our personal details – before carelessly losing them all on a train, while innocent late-night anglers or bus-spotters are rounded up as suspected terrorists. In theory, clandestine information gathering, identifying possible sites for terrorist attacks and spreading subversive extremism should be robustly stamped upon; in fact it’s all there already in Section 44 of the Prevention of terrorism Act.

Sadly, in practice, while ordinary citizens have borne the brunt, the PC culture has left the door open to mischief and ridicule. While MI5 has been charged with recruiting an army of civilians to spot terrorists in our midst, the Government’s record on implementing their own anti-terrorist measures such as closing down dodgy websites and locking up suspects has been an abject failure.

So we’re left with a particularly messy set of definitions and an even more dysfunctional application of anti-terror legislation, all producing an oppressive build-up of arbitrary and heavy-handed restrictions, obscure ‘bean-counting’ and institutional obduracy which only serve to alienate law-abiding citizens from the state.

Recently, the influential Constitution Committee of the House of Lords published a report warning of the dangers of the UK becoming a ‘surveillance society’. It particularly cited the unfettered growth of CCTV cameras to spy on the public – there’s an estimated four million now in the UK, the holding of DNA samples and evidence of abuse of surveillance powers by some councils, including terrorism legislation being used to pursue parents over applications for placing their children in preferred schools.

Fortunately, in these islands, we have so far been spared the worst – though, not all – ineptitudes. We’ve seen local charities forced at their own expense to review their aid giving in order to ensure no financial support slips through to proscribed beneficiaries, while anyone flying to the Island may carry no more than 10,000 euros in cash.

Guernsey is employing sniffer dogs to ensure such money isn’t going to find its way to illegal or terrorist activity. You could argue, I suppose, that it’s because we have yet to become a recognised target, or even perhaps that our local society still retains a tradition of openness in both private and institutional matters.

So while we can all sign up to the logic of putting impediments in the way of miscreants entering whatever country to create mayhem, the UK can now rest assured that by a clever sleight of hand it has successfully closed the door to any over-70, hardened local trouble-maker confident they will certainly be deterred by the knowledge that if they tripped on their walking-stick assault rifles or choked on their anthrax charged aspirin dispensers while on UK soil, they’d be denied free hospital care. So, thanks a million, Mrs Primarolo: mission accomplished. Another brick laid in the dis-united kingdom wall.

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