Leading Article: Mr Fayed does not deserve to get a British passport

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The Independent Culture
MOHAMED AL FAYED won his battle for acceptance in one sense: he became part of the soap opera of British public life. His attempt to obtain a British passport, which would probably have put him in the position of paying considerably more tax, had become one of the epic follies of our national life.

He became part of the footballing strand of the national soap opera, by owning a club. He starred in the business strand, featuring a long- running feud against another larger-than-life tycoon, Tiny Rowland. He became part of the royal story through his late son, one of the less-often- remembered victims of the Paris car crash. And he became part of the political soap opera too, in a sub-plot more convoluted than The House of Cards, in which he bribed MPs and triggered the Tory sleaze explosion that contributed to the size of Labour's landslide.

But fame - or notoriety - cannot be the basis on which citizenship is decided. The very concept of citizenship is made of rarefied, precious stuff, its form abstract and amorphous, its definition ambiguous. It implies rights and duties, which are conferred willy-nilly on babies born in the right circumstances. But it is not unreasonable for states to set some kind of basic quality control over those who wish to be naturalised as adults. There may well be something quaint about the requirement that applicants for British citizenship be "of good character", and the definition of the phrase invites bureaucratic discretion in which prejudices against races and religions could be given too much play. Mr Fayed suggests that "the establishment" is biased against him because he is a Muslim from Egypt. But - in this case - there can be no doubt that Mr Fayed fails the test fairly and absolutely, and Jack Straw should be congratulated on risking his vengeance by following the law scrupulously.

In future, it would be better to update the character test and make the disqualifying conditions explicit, in order to reduce the element of discretion to a minimum and eliminate any suggestion that rich Anglo-Saxons are able to buy a British passport. Mr Fayed would still find himself railing against the establishment from his terracotta palace in Knightsbridge, because the bribery, his tactics against business rivals and lying about where he got the money from to buy Harrods would be more than enough to disqualify him under any criteria. And those are just the things that we know about.

It was noteworthy yesterday that Mr Fayed's publicists responded to the reasons Mr Straw has given him for his decision without publishing the Home Secretary's letter in full. If Mr Fayed is so convinced of the rightness of his case, then let him publish the whole letter, and answer the charges against him about which we have not yet been told.

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