Our politicians frequently speak of ‘British Values’, a phrase that has always puzzled me. What exactly are ‘British Values’ and how do these differ from those that most nations aspire to?
Two incidents have occurred in recent weeks that have prompted me to ask the question again.

The first relates to the recent withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan.

The 13 years spent in the country must have been difficult for British troops not least because many must have asked themselves why they were there in the first place since their role seemed to change from finding Osama bin Laden and fighting the Taliban, to ‘changing hearts and minds’, ‘nation building’ and finally training the Afghans to look after themselves. Only time will tell how successful they have been but since the Taliban is still very much a reality both in Afghanistan and Pakistan I’m not sure if there is much room for confidence.

Nevertheless we must applaud our forces for the sacrifices they have made. What saddens me is the fact during the many ceremonies that have recently taken place across the country, we heard over and over again of the 453 brave British soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict, with no mention whatever of the number of Afghans, mostly civilians, who also lost their lives, homes and livelihood.  According Costs of the estimated number of deaths in Afghanistan, 70% of whom were civilians, amounted to 21,000. Are these not worthy of mention?

The second incident that caused me concern was the report that the British Government is prepared to accept a suggested EU ruling from Brussels that ‘the best way to discourage refugees from north Africa from seeking a better life is to let them drown’ (Paddy Ashdown ‘An inhumane answer to the Mediterranean migrants’ plight’ FT Weekend 1st November 2014). This suggested ruling is in the context of the increasing number of refugees, many of them from war-torn Syria and Iraq, who are fleeing the region for safety in Europe and beyond. As conflict increases across the Levant and North Africa, the numbers boarding unsafe ships to make the perilous journey from North Africa to Italy is increasing. Until now European vessels, and particularly Italian ones, have done their best to rescue the many hundreds who have almost lost their lives at sea. According to the UNHCR around 800 people have drowned in this year alone.

It is now being suggested by the EU that the poor souls should be left to drown because this will discourage them from embarking on the journey in the first place and so not be a ‘problem’ for Europe. What is interesting here is that while the UK seems to have so many problems with the EU to the point that many British people to want to leave the Union, on this particular issue, ‘let them drown’, the UK appears to be ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the EU.

What, I ask, do these two cases say about ‘British Values’? It boils down to how we value human life. It would appear that we value British lives more than Afghan lives and we value the lifestyle that we have created for ourselves on these tiny islands as being more important than saving the lives of those drowning at sea.