Cornish National Identity: 2021 Census

Part of Women and Equalities Committee – in the House of Commons at 9:34 pm on 11th June 2018.

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Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 9:34 pm, 11th June 2018

I am deeply honoured to be able to make the case tonight for celebrating Cornish identity and to call for the inclusion of Cornish identity to be recognised in the next census in 2021. I am very grateful for the support of many of my Cornish colleagues here in the House this evening.

There is no doubt or debate over the fact that the Cornish are a proud people who share an extraordinary history that can be traced back thousands of years. In calling for this debate to make the case for a Cornish tick box for national identity in the next census, there is a risk that some may see this as some sort of gimmick designed simply to boost our tourist industry or play into a stereotype of Cornish country folk. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although it is true to say that many of us Cornish can be guilty of having a playful jibe at the English, especially those from Devon—after all they do put their jam and cream on the wrong way round on their scones—this is not a whim or some notion based on a romantic view of the past.

The Cornish have, along with our Welsh cousins, the longest history of any people in Britain, dating back 12,000 years. It is believed that these ancient people entered this isle after the Ice Age from the area now occupied by the Basques. Genetic codes indelibly mark the Cornish with the DNA of their ancient ancestors. It is believed that a staggering 80% of the Cornish retain this genetic marker. The Cornish language, which is seeing a revival in recent times, has a 5,000-year history. We in Cornwall have our own culture and our own ways. Cornwall even has its own patron saint, St Piran, whose life is celebrated on 5 March every year. We have our own flag and even our own tartan, which I am modelling so well with my tie this evening.

We are all but an island, with the sea surrounding us on three sides and the Tamar River on the fourth, which falls only four miles short of making us an island. There has been many a Cornishman who has been tempted to get his shovel out and dig those last four miles to finish the job, because in so many ways we have the culture, the identity and the attitudes of an island race.

The 80 miles of granite protruding into the Atlantic stubbornly rebel against the great ocean and yet have been shaped by it. The beauty and the desolation defy description and yet somehow portray the spirit of the people who call it their land. It is as if the people and the land are as one. This is not just an historic or romantic notion, but a serious issue that is very much based on current, clear facts.

In 2014, the Government announced that the Cornish would be classified under the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities—a body that I have been honoured to be appointed to recently by the Prime Minister.