Introducing the Government's 'Britishness' test: Only foreigners need pass. Natives can bask in ignorance

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Indy Politics

Foreigners hoping to become British citizens will have to answer questions on everything from Geordie accents and single parent families to workers' rights and elections under a new test of "Britishness" which will be compulsory from today.

The Church of England, how to visit Parliament and minimum ages for buying alcohol also feature in the subjects covered by the new exam, which must be passed before someone can become a British citizen. British history and culture, however, is not included in the 45-minute multiple choice test.

Under the scheme, people applying for citizenship will have to answer 24 questions in a computerised "Life in the UK" quiz designed to show their grasp of British society and institutions. They must answer around three-quarters of the questions correctly to pass. But candidates who fail the exam will be able to re-take it as many times as they wish.

Tony McNulty, the immigration minister, said: "Becoming a British citizen is a milestone event in an individual's life. The measures we are introducing today will help new citizens to gain a greater appreciation of the civic and political dimension of British citizenship and, in particular to understanding the rights and responsibilities that come with British citizenship."

Sample questions published by the Home Office yesterday covered employment rights, the court system and emergency telephone numbers. But a guide to the test warns it could cover a mass of information which new Britons will be expected to know. It asks where Geordie, Cockney and Scouse dialects are spoken, and advises people to know about the work previous migrants to Britain have done.

The internet guide also asks about the national days of the four countries of the UK and bank holidays. It covers elections and the British constitution, while a section on the nation's formal institutions asks about the role of the Queen, the Speaker of the Commons and parliamentary whips.

The test will be run in addition to English-language requirements for new citizens. But the test will not be compulsory for people with poor English, who will have to pass special courses English and Citizenship instead. The Home Secretary will also have powers to waive the tests for elderly or infirm people applying for citizenship.

Opposition parties broadly backed the introduction of the tests. But the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants criticised the exam for singling out immigrants. A spokesman said: "We have always believed that nationality should not be conditional on passing a test. It means immigrants are being singled out for this process."

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality warned that a test of British culture and tradition could be discriminatory. He said: "Why would there be two classes of citizens - one who don't have to know anything about our history because they happen to be born here, and the other who do have to know because they happen to have been born somewhere else?"

But he told the BBC: "I think what the Government is trying to do is to encourage people to ensure that they have the tools by which they can integrate in a society."