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Permission to escape

March 6, 2021

When you go abroad, it’s quite common in normal times for countries that rank high on the control and paranoia scale to ask you state the reason for your visit. It even happens when you go to America, one of the least paranoid countries (irony alert), with the additional attraction that you’re grilled by grunting hominids masquerading as immigration officials who almost always don’t believe what you said on the form.

But now, it seems, we Englanders are required to go through a hoop that has a distinctly Soviet tinge. Before we leave the United Kingdom, we need to produce a form stating our reason for leaving, and providing documentary evidence to back up our plans. In other words, we need permission to leave.

The UK government has been kind enough to provide a list of “permitted reasons”, which include work, volunteering, education, medical or compassionate grounds and “weddings, funerals and related events”.

Whichever reason we select, we will need to provide evidence that such activity can’t take place without our leaving the country. Permitted reasons do not include that I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this bossy government anymore. Nor do they allow me to declare that unless I get out of here I’m going to trigger a mass extinction event.

I do see some useful potential loopholes, however. It surely won’t be long before some enterprising organisations in various parts of the world miraculously start inviting us to weddings of long-lost relatives in Thailand, or to sign us up as volunteers for some worthy cause from the comfort of a five-star hotel under the palm fronds beside some distant sea. They might also arrange for our appointment as employees of a start-up company in the Caribbean. And goodness knows, there are plenty of people being buried around the world, for whom funeral rites last at least three weeks. As for education, everybody will know that I’m studying for a PhD at an obscure university in Cambodia set up for precisely this purpose.

There’s also a list of exempted occupations which allow you travel without a permit. They include Eurostar train drivers, crown servants, civil aviation officials and border guards. That being the case, I’m wondering whether I’m too old to apply for a job as a temporary roving spy with MI6. A mission to spring Alexei Navalny, perhaps, taking in a few art galleries in St Petersburg enroute.

Failing all these options, I see no alternative: take out the swimming trunks, smear on the goose fat and head for Calais with a suitcase trailing in my wake.

Never did I believe that in my lifetime it would be easier for a Russian, with or without a few vials of Novichok or a payload of polonium, to leave Russia and enter the UK than for an impoverished Englander like me to get the hell out of my own country.

On a more serious note, here’s a quote from a magisterial essay in the Financial Times by Yuval Noah Harari on lessons to be learned from the pandemic:

… surveillance must always go both ways. If surveillance goes only from top to bottom, this is the high road to dictatorship. So whenever you increase surveillance of individuals, you should simultaneously increase surveillance of the government and big corporations too. For example, in the present crisis governments are distributing enormous amounts of money. The process of allocating funds should be made more transparent. As a citizen, I want to easily see who gets what, and who decided where the money goes. I want to make sure that the money goes to businesses that really need it rather than to a big corporation whose owners are friends with a minister. If the government says it is too complicated to establish such a monitoring system in the midst of a pandemic, don’t believe it. If it is not too complicated to start monitoring what you do — it is not too complicated to start monitoring what the government does.

Says it all as far as the UK is concerned, really.

From → Social, Travel, UK

    Thanks for the quote. That’s going to make the rounds!

    • Thanks Debby. I’m not sure he had the UK in mind, but it was a bit of a slam dunk. The US too maybe….

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