The Unprincipled Exception: A Case Study

MICHAEL BUERK: Our first witness is Dr. Phillip Cole, who’s Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of the West of England, written extensively on migration, including Debating the Ethics of Immigration: Is there a Right to Exclude? Er, is there? I don’t want the book, one word would do.

DR. COLE: No. There isn’t a right to exclude.

BUERK: So in your view, should all borders be wide open?

COLE: Yes, they should. That’s my view.

(…)

MATTHEW TAYLOR: Can I just probe this incredibly pure position that you have about open borders, with a bit of kind of reductio ad absurdum? The Sentinelese tribe of the Andaman Islands, they’re one of the most remote tribes in the world, and the international community recognizes that we should leave them alone, because they respond very badly to outsiders. Would you be completely laid back if a thousand twentysomething Westerners decided to land on the Andaman Islands tomorrow because they just fancied, you know, getting away from things?

COLE: No, I wouldn’t. Um …

TAYLOR: Why not?

COLE: Er, but I don’t think you can judge the ethics of migration on extreme cases. Um, that’s not … it’s not the same kind of case we’re facing.

TAYLOR: But why do those, why does that tribe have rights over that island, rather than the Westerners who might want to come in and use it?

COLE: Because …

TAYLOR: Because you’re not really accepting the case that being in a place gives you any more right than not being in that place.

COLE: I don’t accept that, but I do accept that in some cases, where ways of life are under threat–where, if you like, the, the nation, if that’s a nation, it’s under threat—then these are exceptional circumstances. But I don’t think you can base, er, the rules of migration around those very extreme cases. The rules about migration to the U.K. are not like that.

– “The Moral Maze”, BBC Radio Four, 16th October, 2013. (Transcribed by John Derbyshire.)

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