The case for changing our laws on revoking citizenship

UK passportWhen as Home Secretary Sajid Javid attempted to strip British-born Shamima Begum of her citizenship, he highlighted how the Home Office has come to possess powers to revoke citizenship that did not exist a generation earlier. These new powers are nothing short of racist, allowing the Home Secretary to strip Brits of citizenship by dint of their ancestry. According to Javid’s interpretation of the new laws, so long as a person can claim citizenship elsewhere – such as by having foreign ancestry in Shamima Begum’s case, or by virtue of laws such as Israel’s and Ireland’s allowing Jewish and Northern Irish people, respectively, to claim citizenship – the Home Office has the power to take their citizenship. It would not, in Javid’s interpretation, have the ability to take the citizenship of ‘indigenous’ English, Scottish or Welsh people.

The racist implications of Javid’s actions are what prompted a group of diaspora South Asian Lib Dems (most notably Nasser Butt, Marisha Ray, Mohsin Khan, Hussain Khan, Maaria Siddiqi and me) to work in partnership with Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesperson Ed Davey and adviser Jonathan Jones to come up with Federal Conference Motion F34: Deprivation of Citizenship. At the very least, we aim to completely end the Home Office’s power to revoke the citizenship of anyone born British.

We would hope that our party can effect even more ambitious change in Parliament: four of us acquired British citizenship after birth, while one of us is an American aspiring to become British. We would therefore want the Conservative and Labour parties to agree to ending the Home Secretary’s powers to revoke the citizenship of those who acquire citizenship after birth, other than for the reasons that have existed since at least 1948, ie. fraud and misrepresentation in acquiring the citizenship.

In the event that the two parties which introduced the new laws awarding the Home Secretary his powers to revoke citizenship beyond fraud and misrepresentation take a hard-line against this, our policy motion proposes to enable our Lib Dem parliamentarians to agree to a less perfect solution.

First, it disallows the racist implementation of the law that Javid attempted.

Second, in the case of people who acquired their citizenship after birth, it requires the Home Secretary to refer revocation of their citizenship to the judiciary. For the Home Secretary to be successful, the Home Office has to show that a. the person has done something seriously prejudicial to the security interests of the UK, b. deprivation of citizenship is a proportionate response, c. deprivation would not make the person stateless and d. the interests of any child affected are taken into account.

We urgently need support for motion F34 on Tuesday, 17th September, 2019 at 9:45am at conference in Bournemouth.

We know of no cases of revocation prior to 2002. Since then, particularly under Tory Home Secretaries, instances of revocation have ballooned. Revocation happened 21 times between 2006 and 2012, 74 times between 2013 and 2016, then 104 times in 2017. Who knows what havoc Priti Patel could wreak unless we curb her office’s powers?

The laws the group studied were the British Nationality Act 1948, British Nationality Act 1981, Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, and Immigration Act 2014.

Our motion can be found here.

* Imad tweets @ImadAhmed. He is economist on the Academic Board of the Paddy Ashdown Forum and an Executive Member of Liberal International British Group. Views expressed are his own.

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  • ……………………..At the very least, we aim to completely end the Home Office’s power to revoke the citizenship of anyone born British…………………

    May I wish you the very best of luck. However, Priti Patel makes Amber Rudd look like “Francis of Assisi”

  • “”””These new powers are nothing short of racist, allowing the Home Secretary to strip Brits of citizenship by dint of their ancestry.””””

    Is it racist? Aquiring citizenship (even if that mean at birth) is “by dint” of a person’s ancestry and thats the case the world over. It’s why I acquired British citizenship at birth by virtue of my “ancestry”, i.e British parents. It’s why my neighbour’s children, British citizens, born in the UK to British citizens, also later aquired Pakistani citizenship, because their parents in addition to being British citizens also claim Pakistani ancestry. Can I claim Pakistani citizenship? Nope, I don’t have Indian ancestry. Is that racist? Nope.

    Just as laws of acquiring citizenship are “by dint” of one’s ancestry, and that’s not necessarily racist, it stands to reason that laws of revoking citizenship “by dint” of one’s ancestry aren’t necessarily racist.

    “””” It would not, in Javid’s interpretation, have the ability to take the citizenship of ‘indigenous’ English, Scottish or Welsh people.””””

    I am ‘indigenous’ British (frpm Wales), but I could have my citizenship revoked, since I already have another citizenship (and will soon acquire a third), meaning I could fit the criteria for revoking my British citizenship in spite of being ‘indigenous’ (whatever that means anyway)

  • “Indian subcontinent* ancestry”

  • Martin Land 19th Aug '19 - 7:14pm

    Revoking citizenship by the Home Office would be an improvement over the current system where it is seemingly revoked by the Press.

  • Well I suppose in the event of successful Scottish Indy ref, we could revoke Gove’s, IDS and the rest citizenship and deport them to Scotland. Could have quite a time deporting Tories to countries they have a claim to citizenship. Doubt if the boot was on that foot they’d be happy to revoke citizenship.

  • I imagine that this is a non-issue for many of those posting here but it is a live issue for millions of British citizens. Have a grandparent born on the island of Ireland (north or south)? Jewish and entitled to Israeli citizenship? Your British citizenship can be revoked by a political figure (the Home Secretary) without you having any criminal conviction and in the absence of any court oversight. We have jury trial in the case of fines or imprisonment, but revocation of citizenship, no don’t need to worry about that.

    The revocation of citizenship creates a two tier citizenship – those holding or entitled to citizenship of another country and those not so holding or entitled.

    However, the wider problem is the nonsense about the fight against terrorism justifying this sort of revocation. It’s not terrorism to enrol in the Israeli Defence Force and participate in an illegal (as per UN and UK) occupation of the West Bank. However, it is terrorism to fight with Kurdish forces against ISIS. It’s a nonsense because at this point terrorism amounts to whatever the government decides.

    And there are a number of LibDems, such as the wretched Lord Carlile (now thankfully no longer in the party) who have cheerled the marginalisation of minority groups as the bien-pesants criminalise political belief never mind action. Thank God that Charles Kennedy, a man who remembered in his blood the pre- and post-Culloden persecution of Catholic highlanders always stood firm against the noxious power of the politicians who demanded to rule not only men’s pocketbooks and fists but also their hearts and voices.

  • Andrew Daer 20th Aug '19 - 4:44am

    In Shamima’s case it is also incredibly heartless to render stateless a girl who was groomed and trafficked abroad for sexual exploitation aged 15. I still struggle to believe our country has sunk to that level. My impression was that Javid reacted to tabloid headlines, but can believe racism is involved. However, we have since seen a young white man given the same treatment. The legal logic, we are told, is that you can remove British citizenship provided someone has another citizenship to fall back on technically, even if that country is a place they have never visited. We are not judged by the rest of the world by that logic, we are judged by standards of common decency. To argue that some who grew up in Britain, and lived their entire life as a British citizen is someone else’s problem, by virtue of having one foreign parent, is not just ludicrous, it is embarrassing and shameful.

  • Jack Nicholls 20th Aug '19 - 8:01am

    Really interesting and thoughtful post, and nice to see another ex-Brunian serving the cause of liberal democracy.

  • I welcome Imad’s article, although like James Pugh question the seemingly knee jerk ‘racist’ tag that is being applied, which I think weakens his arguments.

    What the article skips over and many seem to have missed is that there are (probably) two broad groups of people affected: the first are those who actually hold dual citizenship, the second are those who could claim dual citizenship because of birth.

    I would expect people’s attitudes to the first group being stripped of one of their citizenship’s is slightly different to those in the second group. The questions arise with the second group, where the individual only possess’es a GB passport, but could fully satisfy the criteria for citizenship elsewhere, but have either not availed themselves of this or have voluntarily given up such citizenship on gaining their GB citizenship.

    Into this second group also fall US citizens, who whilst they can perform a voluntary act to give up their US citizenship, this actually only results in the ‘presumption’ they are no longer citizens (in some respects) however they can later rebut this presumption and regain their US citizenship. I therefore think there is a need to clarify just what is the level of ‘citizenship’ we will grant first generation migrants and their children.

  • Nonconformistradical 20th Aug '19 - 10:39am

    Commenting on Roland’s posting at 20th Aug ’19 – 9:47am regarding dual nationality

    One Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in the USA with British parents and hence had dual nationality but renounced his US citizenship when he didn’t feel like paying US taxes on selling his property in London.

    So by his own choice he only now has UK citizenship.

    But I wonder if some future home secretary might consider depriving Bojo of his UK citizenship….?

    Only speculating…….

  • Bobby Copper 20th Aug '19 - 12:13pm

    What’s a Brunian?

  • Jack Nicholls 20th Aug '19 - 10:28pm

    Sorry, hometown reference 🙂

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