Words Matter

“British values”

what are "British values?"

“British values” are the set of values said to underpin UK society. They consist of: “democracy”, “the rule of law”, “respect and tolerance”, and “individual liberty”.

But why are these values assumed to be “British” in nature?

British Values: A Colonial History

These four values seem to epitomise decency and compassion. It seems bizarre that the UK would claim ownership over these values, especially given its violent colonial history. There was no respect shown towards all the people the UK enslaved, murdered and colonised, who were also denied their individual liberties.

The present moment also shows the UK’s failure in living up to these values. The UK Government shows no respect to migratised, Muslim, racialised or queer people, who are consistently scapegoated and villified. Border violence and deportations are also the opposite of individual liberty.

Clampdowns on the right to protest are clearly not in line with the notion of democracy, whilst Home Office deportation deals clearly fly in the face of the rule of law. Colonial legacies continue to deprive migratised, racialised and queer people of respect and liberty.

The UK claims it lives up to these values, but an analysis of past and present shows this claim to be unfounded. Horrifically, the UK Government also weaponises and distorts the rule of law in order to continue to deprive people of their dignity, liberty and humanity.

It is also a deeply Islamophobic trope that is used to implement harmful surveillance policies like the Prevent duty. Prevent is a form of state surveillance that disproportionately impacts racialised, especially Muslim, communities. It leads to thousands of people (mainly Muslims) being treated with suspicion on the basis they are assumed to be more likely to commit or support an act of terrorism.

But how can the UK truly live up to these values?

  • End the criminalisation of migration
  • Commit to safe routes
  • Provide reparations for colonial atrocities
  • Protect trans rights
  • Stop deportations
  • Stop demonising racialised, migratised and Muslim communities

To download this explainer as a graphic, click here.

Invoking “British values” is a racist and Islamophobic tool of exclusion

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