Citizenship stripping doesn't just concern criminalsby Ismail Einashe / April 12, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Should all immigrants learn English?
The Home Secretary Theresa May has said many times that British citizenship is a “privilege, not a right.” Under the British Nationality Act, she has the power to strip dual nationals and naturalised people of their citizenship if she believes it is “conducive to the public good.” The last Labour government stripped five people of their citizenship over a period of seven years. Since taking up her position in 2010, May has removed the citizenship of 37 people, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Not all of these cases have been identified, but many of them are thought to be Britons who have gone to Syria to take part in the civil war.
Now, following the Rotherham child abuse scandal, citizenship stripping may be expanding to new areas. The Home Office is considering removing the British passports of those convicted sex abusers who are dual nationals, and deporting them upon their release from prison. Unsurprisingly, there will be little public sympathy if such criminals have their passports revoked, or for terrorists either.
Yet it is a mistake to imagine this is a useful response to terrorism and organised crime. In reality, it will erode the rights of millions of law-abiding people. The government has the power to revoke citizenship with little oversight and virtually no public scrutiny. The Home Secretary can strip the citizenship of dual nationals or naturalised Britons without giving a reason, needing the approval of a court, or requiring that an individual be convicted of a crime. There is a right to appeal. But the Home Office usually waits until individuals are outside the UK to deprive them of their citizenship, and challenging a decision from abroad is extremely difficult.
Take the case of Mahdi Hashi, a Somali-born young man whom I grew up with in Camden. He had taken British citizenship as a teenager, but it was revoked in 2012 after he travelled to Somalia, allegedly to fight with al-Shabaab, the al Qaeda-affiliated militant group. He was later rendered by the United States and ended up in America where he was held in detention, charged and convicted on terror charges. When his parents in London asked the British authorities to help their son, they were turned down on the grounds that Hashi was no longer a citizen.
Increasingly, citizenship stripping is becoming a key instrument in the counter-terrorism toolbox. Moreover, there have been recent moves in other liberal democracies, such as Canada, Australia and France, to revoke citizenship in response to terrorist acts (though President François Hollande abandoned these plans in March after strong opposition).
And the government has sought to further its powers. Theresa May introduced an amendment to the 2014 Immigration Act that would have given the government the power to deprive British nationals of their citizenship—even if this made them stateless. The move would have breached the UK’s international obligations. The amendment was eventually defeated in the House of Lords, but it serves to demonstrate the government’s intent.
We ridicule Donald Trump’s stance on immigration and his proposed ‘ban on Muslims’ entering the United States. Of course, British policy is not nearly as aggressive, but perhaps we shouldn’t be quite so quick to think of absurd citizenship policy as only affecting other countries.
According to the 2011 census, there are 3.4m Britons who, like me, are naturalised or dual nationals. We make up about 46 per cent of the country’s 7.5m foreign-born population. And the past 15 years have seen a sharp rise in naturalisations—there were 125,800 in 2014 alone. The government’s erosion of the citizenship rights of Brits like me is shortsighted and risky. There are now two classes of citizens in this country. One has inalienable rights, while naturalised people or dual nationals are second-class citizens, whose right to British citizenship for life is never guaranteed and will always be subject to review.