The rapper Tyler, The Creator was turned away at the UK border last week and informed that he was banned by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, from entering the UK for the next three to five years, apparently on the basis of the lyrical content of his music. He was due to perform at a number of festivals, including Reading and Leeds.
When Tyler was refused at the border, he was held in a detention room where he claims the Border Force Officer quoted lyrics from two of his albums released in 2009 and 2011, and informed him he was supporting homophobia and acts of terrorism. Tyler's response is that he never performs these songs, as they were written a number of years ago. The refusal documents from the Home Office state "The Home Secretary has reached this decision because you have brought yourself within the scope of the list of unacceptable behaviour by making statements that may foster hatred, which might lead to intercommunity violence in the UK." Further it states, "Your albums Bastard, in 2009, and Goblin, in 2011, are based on the premise of your adopting a mentally unstable alter ego who describes violent physical abuse, rape and murder in graphic terms which appears to glamourise this behaviour."
What is perhaps baffling about this decision is that the lyrics referred to were written a number of years ago and Tyler, The Creator has visited the UK on several occasions since they were released with no issues. He was in the UK only two months prior to his refusal at the UK border last week, so it is unclear as to why there has been a sudden turnaround, especially when the material referred to was written when Tyler was much younger, and do not reflect the direction in which he is going as an artist at present.
In any event, the music that the Secretary of State found unacceptable remains freely available in this country even though the artist, who had no intention of performing the material in question, has now been banned from the UK.
In speaking to the press, Tyler has questioned whether the UK's decision to ban him was influenced by his ban from New Zealand in 2014 for posing "a threat to the public order and the public interest", and his controversial visit to Australia earlier in 2015, when an Australian feminist group Collective Shout campaigned to ban him from Australia.
Tyler's recent ban from the UK also calls into question wider issues about freedom of speech through film and the written word.
The decision also highlights the difficulties caused by the Government's abolition of immigration appeals in all except asylum and human rights cases. As there is no longer normally any right of appeal against a refusal of entry or ongoing entry ban, the only remedy available in a case like this is to judicially review the decisions. However, judicial review is much less suited to challenging such decisions than the old style visitor's appeal, in which the appellant could obtain a fresh decision from an independent judge. On a judicial review, it is usually necessary to show that the decision is so unreasonable that no reasonable Secretary of State could have made it. It is therefore much easier to succeed in an appeal on the merits than it is in a judicial review.
As such, it is now extremely difficult to challenge any decision in respect of entry to the UK or a ban from the UK, which poses a real issue for anyone put in the same position as Tyler, especially those who do not have the high profile and financial means that a successful rapper does.
Whilst there is obviously a significant constituency that finds Tyler, The Creator's lyrics offensive, they are arguably no more so than those of many other musicians. It raises the question as to whether many more such refusals of entry to the UK by controversial musicians might now follow.