Oxford, like the past, is another country

In a sense, that’s true — Oxford (like Cambridge) is locked in a bubble of privilege and prosperity. But my Observer colleague Kenan Malik’s experience reinforces that truism. “ I never thought I’d have to produce a passport travelling from London to Oxford,” he writes,

Until last week, that is. I was giving a talk at an Oxford college. “Bring your passport,” I was told. “The government has made employers legally responsible for ensuring that anyone who works for them has the right to do so. We need to see your passport before you can begin teaching.”

It was a shocking and outrageous demand and not one I’ve received from any other college, Oxford or otherwise, yet perfectly understandable within the context of the government’s “hostile environment” policy that has turned universities, hospitals, schools, landlords, employers, even homeless charities, into immigration police and created a climate of suspicion under which everyone is assumed to be guilty until they can prove themselves innocent.

To have to show a passport before giving a talk is a minor irritant. For many people, as the Windrush scandal exposed, and as EU citizens in post-Brexit Britain may find, such checks can be a life-changing experience, denying them hospital treatment or welfare benefits, even leading to detention…

I’m a bit puzzled, though. The demand he quotes suggests that the college that invited him was employing him to give a talk — i.e. for a fee, and in a way that’s understandable given current legislation. But if he was just coming to give an invited talk without pay (but with travel expenses) then the demand is indeed outrageous.