The Independent View: Removing the ‘right to have rights’

LibertyWhile the Commons grappled with the latest wave of backbench Euroscepticism, quietly and without fanfare the Home Secretary introduced an amendment to the Immigration Bill which strikes at the heart of our national conscience.

The impetus for this power came not from the urgent necessity of fighting terrorism, but is rather the result of a six year legal battle. In October last year, the Supreme Court held that the executive could not remove British nationality from an individual where to do so would render him stateless.  A frustrated Home Secretary now seeks a broad, discretionary power to remove what Hannah Arendt so memorably described as “the right to have rights”.

This frightening addition attracted 60 minutes consideration in the Commons, but in the Lords it was subjected to hours of muscular debate. Supreme Court Justices lined up with leading voices on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a former Director of Public Prosecutions and our most prominent public lawyers to oppose the power as not just barbaric, but dangerous, damaging to our diplomatic relations and likely unlawful.  The defeat was convincing, with 23 Liberal Democrats supporting Lord Pannick’s calls for this power to be scrutinised by a Joint Committee of Parliament before it acquires the force of law.

History is littered with examples of rogue states wielding statelessness as a weapon. Prior to the mass murder of two thirds of the Jewish population of Europe during World War II, in 1935 Germany introduced the Nuremberg Laws which divided German citizens into full citizens and citizens without political rights, creating millions of stateless persons. More recently, Saddam Hussein stripped the Faili Kurds of their Iraqi nationality by decree on one day in 1980. They were expelled from their homes and marched across the Iranian border into decades of exile. Forcing people into a modern version of medieval exile is the behaviour of despots not democrats. Those who argue that the power will be scarcely used should contemplate words of Lord Deben: “it is none the less injustice if it affects but one”. 

It is the duty of all who care about rights and freedoms to engage with the security case, but washing our hands of suspected terrorists makes for a more not less dangerous world. It will surely prove disastrous for our international relations too – how would our Government react should those we’ve admitted to our shores be cast adrift amongst the population by the country that formerly claimed them? To coin a beautiful phrase from Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Macdonald, this policy “threatens illegal and procedural quagmire hardly compatible with the comity of nations, still less with solidarity between free countries in the face of terrorism.” 

When this issue comes back to the Commons, Liberal Democrats should match the courage of their colleagues in the Lords. It was Liberal Democrats who secured parliamentary scrutiny and ultimate defeat for the Snoopers’ Charter;  this disturbing new power deserves no less.


* Shami Chakrabarti is the Director of Liberty

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  • Why on earth are we agreeing to this? What are we getting for it? If it was in the coalition agreement (or at least a manifesto) then there’s a clear answer, but we’ve given ground again and again on immigration issues with nothing back in return – stopping worse isn’t the point.

    This should not be what Lib Dems are about.

  • In the Commons Theresa May seemed unable or unwilling to give a clear answer to questions about the position of people in this country who would be stateless and undeportable.

  • Richard Dean 15th Apr '14 - 1:33pm

    At face value it seems that Lord Pannick’s intervention was not an objection to the power to remove citizenship (which is not, of course, a “right to have rights”, since even stateless people have rights). Rather the intervention was intended to provide further time for parliament to think. The following Hansard record seems consistent, for example, with parliament eventually recommending that the power to remove citizenship should not rest solely with the Home Secretary, but require the Home Secretary to apply to a special (even secret) court:

    Amendment 56
    Moved by Lord Pannick
    56: Clause 64, page 51, line 29, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—

    “(1) A committee of members of both Houses of Parliament shall be established to consider and report on whether section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981 (deprivation of citizenship) should be amended to enable the Secretary of State to deprive a person of their citizenship status if—
    (a) the citizenship status results from the person’s naturalisation, and
    (b) the Secretary of State is satisfied that the deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person, while having that citizenship status, has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, any of the Islands, or any British overseas territory,

    even if to do so would have the effect of making a person stateless.

    .Clause 64 would give the Home Secretary power to decide that British citizenship obtained by naturalisation should be removed for reasons of the public good, even if the result would be to render the person stateless. Amendment 56 would establish a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament to consider all aspects of the Government’s proposal and report back. Parliament could then take an informed view on whether the benefits, if any, of the Government’s proposal outweighed any detriments. A Joint Committee is required because … there was no pre-legislative scrutiny …, no consultation and no opportunity for consideration by the Public Bill Committee of the other place.

  • Tony Dawson 15th Apr '14 - 2:09pm

    Shami for Leader! 🙂

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 15th Apr '14 - 3:47pm

    Provisional citizenship is an oxymoron. One is either a citizen with inalienable rights or one isn’t. All citizens of this country should be afeared if this illiberal Coalition is contemplating removing rights of citizenship from any of its citizens. Where might it end? The point about Hitler is well made. Would any British citizen be safe? As well as being bad law it would provide terrorists with greater opportunities for engaging in terrorism, for, if you are a terrorist and deprived of your British citizenship you become stateless and available to any country that would want to give you sanctuary in order to exploit your knowledge and skills. No, if you are a naturalised citizen and a terrorist you should be gaoled in this country, not sent packing and allowed to go free in another.

    However, I don’t think people should be surprised that the Liberal Democrats in the Commons are supporting this. Some of the most repressive acts have been perpetrated by “Liberal” administrations. Remember Asquith and the Suffragetttes?

  • Richard Dean 15th Apr '14 - 4:08pm

    May I politely suggest that Tony Dawson’s reaction is electoral suicide? Because electorates recognize that parliamentary government is about much more than rights. Ask Danny, it seems to have much more to do with money! And without electoral support we cannot be effective. Let’s not go so far down the tubes that we become familiar with the other side of the U bend!

    Removing citizenship is very far from removing all rights, so the phrase “right to have rights” is somewhat demagogic in my view. What are the rights associated with citizenship? As a citizen I don’t know! They probably include right of abode, right to social benefits, and right to diplomatic representation and protection when abroad. The giving of all of these to immigrants of known origins is already highly controversial. The giving of them to stateless persons, whose origins are unknown, is likely to be even more so.

    My own feeling is that provisional citizenship is fine in theory for a limited period. The provisional citizen’s rights are not infringed by that, nor are the rights of the existing citizens, and it could in theory provide a kind of validation test of the provisional citizen’s bona fides. Its utility would probably be limited though.

    I feel that the only valid reason for revoking full citizenship would be if the grounds on which citizenship was originally granted turn out to have been falsified by the applicant. Perhaps there could be other grounds, but that would be rather different to the granting of a Home Secretary the apparently arbitrary power that seems to have been proposed.

  • Richard Dean 15th Apr '14 - 6:06pm

    I hope that LD4SoS will be careful in the language they use, Suzanne, and the actions they engage in. “Putting the case for/against” has one set of connotations, largely supportable in a democratic society. “Influencing parliament” can have a whole different set of connotations, not all of which are acceptable in such a society, nor likely to generate electoral support.

  • A Social Liberal 15th Apr '14 - 11:12pm

    Richard Dean

    How can you even hint that LD4SoS might in any way use a strategy to influence our own party to vote a certain way which would be anything other than ‘acceptable’ . I suggest that the polls show that the illiberal policies supported by our MPs has done far more to destroy our ‘electoral support’ than anything LD4SoS could do.

  • Richard Dean 16th Apr '14 - 12:18pm

    Hi, A Social Liberal

    Essentially because Suzanne’s text allows that interpretation to be made.

    Many times people seem to argue with apparently good intentions but in a way that can damage their credibility. Arendt’s “right to rights” does this, because it’s obviously inaccurate in that only citizenship rights are involved, not all rights.Swami’s Hitler can that too, because it’s too far removed from ordinary people’s perceptions of a UK government that may be disrespected but is even so felt to be far more responsible than Hitler’s was.

    I suggest that using inaccurate or inflammatory language is fine if you want to justify your own existence by generating resistance to it. But it doesn’t necessarily achieve its stated aim in a society that may equate that to un-attractive extremism.

  • Richard Dean 16th Apr '14 - 12:19pm

    Swami -> Shami

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