We must oppose illiberal powers to strip British people of citizenship

Our illiberal Government is trying to strengthen its ability to deprive people of British citizenship. We must take action to worsen a two-tier system of citizenship for those who have been born British citizens.

How did this mess begin?

Originally, the Home Secretary could only deprive naturalised citizens of citizenship, and not if it would make someone stateless. This power wasn’t used until 2002. Then, Labour expanded the power to cover British-born citizens. We were the only major party to oppose. In 2006, Labour expanded the power once again, and again we were the only major party to oppose.

Unfortunately, the Coalition widened the power’s illiberality. In 2014, it expanded the deprivation powers to foreign-born British citizens without dual nationality, allowing them to be made stateless if the Government believed they could obtain citizenship elsewhere.

Under Javid, the Government used this power on a British-born citizen without dual citizenship, on the assumption that they could theoretically become a citizen of another country. The use of these powers also increased. Between 2006-2012, the power was used 21 times – but 104 times in 2017.

Now, Priti Patel wants to expand these powers even more. Clause 9 of the Nationality and Borders Bill would remove any requirement for the Government to tell you of its intention to deprive you of citizenship, if they consider it’s in the public interest not to do so, or if it’s not “reasonably practicable” to do so.

Contrast that with the US. Due to their 18th Century constitution, if you are born in the US as a citizen, you cannot be stripped of your citizenship at all.

Why is this a concern?

Because some British citizens (including many British-born citizens, who may be totally unaware of this) have the right to citizenship in other countries. Some countries automatically create dual citizens from descent, without a parent or child needing to register or apply for this, or even know about it. Others give descendants the right to citizenship.

That creates a two-tier system of citizenship – with some people, despite being born British citizens just like others, having far stronger rights.

Worse, it literally puts citizens’ rights at the whim of how other countries choose to give theoretical rights to citizenship – a decision in Paris or Delhi could affect a British person’s constitutional rights here.

If you have ancestors from countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Ireland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, or Pakistan, your British citizenship as a British-born citizen could be more so at risk than someone without any such relatives.

New Statesman has conducted a worrying analysis. They found that nearly 6 million people in England and Wales could have their citizenship stripped. This includes half a million people who are British-born. That might seem like a small number – but it says “almost half of all Asian British people in England and Wales are likely to be eligible (50 per cent), along with two in five black Britons (39 per cent).”

In 2019 the Lib Dem Muslim Forum worked with the Policy Unit, Ed Davey, Christine Jardine, and LDCRE to successfully pass policy against this – you can read it here.

This policy restricted the power to deprive someone of citizenship to naturalised citizens, and only in specific situations. It also required court permission, and strengthened the ability of citizens to be aware of and defend themselves against deprivation. It brought us more in line with French or US protections against deprivation for those who have it by birth or for long periods of time.

This March, when there were calls to deprive Prince Harry of his British citizenship, Alistair Carmichael MP wrote further on this.

Carmichael said:

If we believe in the rule of law, then we must challenge the idea that citizenship is a privilege that can be removed on a whim[..]”If our rights as citizens are so easily taken away then they are not rights at all, merely the privileges we cling onto for good behaviour…Good behaviour, however, is not supposed to be the measure of citizenship.

He also spoke against the clause in Parliament this month, saying:

We should not be using citizenship as some sort of tool for further punishment; there are plenty of other ways in which people who have done wrong can be punished.

The Government should change tack – a quarter of a million people have already signed a petition against this. Please write to your MP and any friendly Peers to ask them to remove their illiberal clause.

* Dr Mohsin Khan is the Chair of Lib Dem Campaign for Race Equality. He is also a directly elected member of Federal Policy Committee

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6 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Dec '21 - 3:08pm

    I agree with this complete and utter outrageous nonsense being criticised by the excellent stance expressed by Mohsin here.

    My father was Italian. Much of my childhood and into young,adult years age group, some would say, getting on, as quite mature, in my thirties, I was invited to take up the open and enduring offer of Italian citizen status. As a UK patriot, with an English mother, born and bred here and in the EU any way, I was not interested. That it could be used in the way indicated here is a disgrace.

    New Labour, latter end, Tories mostly these days, yes the lousy coalition too, poor government is the norm in recent decades.

    The likes of Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams seem few a far between!

  • Brad Barrows 15th Dec '21 - 6:31pm

    A little disingenuous to blame the ‘Coalition’ for what happened in 2014 – truth is that the Liberal Democrats supported the Conservatives in doing what they did in 2014. The Lib Dems could have taken a stand and threatened to end the Coalition over the issue, but chose to back the Conservatives instead. The ‘Coalition’ still angers and embarrasses me in equal measure.

  • Rob Harrison 16th Dec '21 - 8:25am

    I am one of the many thousands of UK-born British citizens who have taken an EU nationality because of Brexit. Although I don’t expect that the government would have cause to remove my UK nationality, at least one person argued that I was a “traitor” for supporting continued EU membership.

  • Neil James Sandison 18th Dec '21 - 2:56pm

    A scary thought 6 million of our fellow citizens could lose their identity . Windrush showed us the state can be cruel and have no regard for individual rights when it comes meeting a political objective ruthlessly imposed by a majority government . Should the Liberal Democrats be alongside PR calling for a written bill of rights for all British citizens .

  • Peter Hirst 19th Dec '21 - 1:43pm

    The important thing is for everyone to have somewhere they can call home. What does eu citizenship actually entitle you to? Deprivation of british citizenship should include a legal process that ensures no-one becomes stateless.

  • Well said, Johnson & motley crew at the moment can push through this and other unsavoury measures 😞
    We can only hope that after the next Westminster GE this situation can be changed.

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