Why has Nick Clegg backed plan to deprive terror suspects of citizenship?

A last-minute government amendment to the Immigration Bill which would give the Home Secretary the power to deprive terror suspects of British citizenship even if it would make them stateless has made all the headlines. Well, the cynic in me suggests that it neatly deflects attention from the abject failure of David Cameron to keep his right-wing backbenchers under control. So far he hasn’t been able to stop Dominic Raab and Nigel Mills from tabling amendments which, if passed, would render the Bill illegal as far as the European Convention on Human Rights is concerned. He is unlikely to be able to prevent a significant backbench rebellion.

Of course, if the Labour Party were actually thinking like a responsible political party, they’d vote against the amendments rather than play political games and abstain, but that’s a whole other story.

I have been doing a bit of digging this morning and found someone from deep within the Westminster Bubble to give me an idea of why the Liberal Democrats would agree to something as drastic as potentially making someone stateless. Well, actually, the Home Secretary already can do just that in two instances already. The first is if citizenship is acquired (including if you were born here) by fraudulent means or facts were concealed and the second is if the person is not conducive to the public good. It came about because of Al Jeddah who could have taken up Iraqi nationality after being deprived of his UK citizenship.The amendment today is described as a tweak to that to enable the Home Secretary to leave someone stateless, a power that they actually had up until 2003. It would be very unusual for that to happen, I’m told, because this will not apply to people who were born here, only to people who have acquired UK citizenship. They have the alternative of resuming their former citizenship so that they would not be made stateless.

Although this amendment has been tabled at the last minute, there has been significant consultation within the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party, I’m told. They’ve looked at it very carefully and are satisfied that there are significant safeguards as this would only ever be done at the end of a legal process and would be open to judicial review. It would also only apply to a very small number of people. It also already applies to people who have dual nationality.

There’s obviously a counter to this line of argument. Quite possibly, the person who’s being deprived of citizenship will never have seen the evidence against them because it’ll have been produced in a secret court, or closed material procedure to give it its proper name. Imagine if they are completely innocent, and don’t want to be forced to resume a nationality that they may have given up for good reason and which might place them in greater danger.

Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti had this to say about the proposal:

Liberty always said that terror suspects should be charged and tried. First politicians avoided trials for foreign nationals; now they seek the same for their own citizens.

This move is as irresponsible as it is unjust. It would allow British Governments to dump dangerous people on the international community, but equally to punish potential innocent political dissenters without charge or trial. There is the edge of populist madness and then the abyss.

While I accept that the amendment does not make a huge change, it still makes me feel uneasy. I always feel that justifying something by saying it only applies to a tiny number of people is slightly scary because it might be extended to cover me or someone I love one day. Once a precedent is set, mission creep is always a possibility. However, unlike other issues with the Immigration Bill, I can actually see where our ministers are coming from.

However, I feel even more concerned that we might end up with a Bill that is illegal, that doesn’t comply with European Union law. This, of course, would pump up the Eurosceptic right and put the Liberal Democrats in a very difficult position, quite probably, and correctly, arguing against public opinion. Could we seriously allow a Bill with which we fundamentally disagree, which illegally removes people’s human rights, to get on the Statute Book? Nick Clegg has always said that he would never allow human rights to be diminished and I believe him. Would we withdraw our support for the Bill? Of course, we are a long way from that at the moment, but I hope that we have figured out not just the endgame, but how we communicate it.

There are very many aspects of this Bill which make me wince, particularly as regards access to healthcare and requiring landlords to check potential tenants’ immigration status. Thanks to the Liberal Democrats that has been reduced to a pilot in one area of the country, but it is still a very bad idea and a huge disincentive to landlords. I am assured, though, that the Bill under debate is unrecognisable to that which the Tories wanted. The Liberal Democrats have insisted on the removal or watering down of many of their proposals which deserves credit. We are, however, debating a Bill that really isn’t necessary, which is supposedly solving problems which, if they exist at all, are pretty minor. For me it seems to cede too much ground to those who would scapegoat immigrants and it worries me to be associated with it.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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32 Comments

  • I’m minded to agree; this is a lousy bill and although we’ve had some wins on it, it’s such a mess that what’s left is still

    My understanding this morning was that the LDs had agreed to the home secretary’s power to remove citizenship only to see off the unacceptable rebel amendments. But the Government has just announced it won’t oppose the Raab amendment (automatically deporting foreign criminals unless they face torture or death.) I don’t believe the Government should be in the business of breaking up families – which is what deporting criminals with families here is all about – so it’s now reached the stage where I would hope Lib Dems would withdraw their support for the bill as a whole. The Raab amendment should be a showstopper for us.

  • No doubt Clegg has backed it for the same reason he ever backs anything – he calculates that it will be to his electoral advantage.

    The bigger mystery is why anyone with liberal convictions is still actively supporting Clegg.

  • A Social Liberal 30th Jan '14 - 2:03pm

    As I posted in the members forum

    Why on earth should the way a person behaves be the reason they have their citizenship taken away from them? Are British born citizens such paragons of virtue that we can judge more recent recipients of such hallowed status? what IS the difference in expectation between the indiginous citizenry and naturalised Britons?

    If being thought guilty of terrorism is the criteria for removal of British citizenship then why not take citizenship away from Adams and McGuinness? Perhaps the criteria should be widened to include war crimes and lead to the removal of citizenship from Sgt Alexander and the other Royal Marines or Corporal Payne and his Queens Lancashire Regiment fellow soldiers.

    Of course, the propositions of the last paragraph are laughable, but so are Mays on removal of citizenship from others.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 30th Jan '14 - 2:06pm

    But the Raab amemdment would render the bill illegal. Is this some sort of weird poker game we’re seeing enacted on the floor of our Parliament? This is people’s lives we’re talking about…

  • Jenny Barnes 30th Jan '14 - 2:23pm

    “justifying something by saying it only applies to a tiny number of people is slightly scary because it might be extended to cover me or someone I love one day. Once a precedent is set, …”
    Exactly. If a civil right doesn’t work for everyone, however much they might appear to be objectionable (Abu Q’tada) then it’s not secure for anyone.

  • Stephen Donnelly 30th Jan '14 - 2:48pm

    Another head in my hands moment as Liberal Democrats in government fluff their chance to be liberals whilst in government.

  • @A Social Liberal – Adams and McGuinness, born in the UK (as far as I know), suspected but not convicted of terrorism, eligible for another citizenship (through being born on the island of Ireland), appear to be just the kind of cases this bill is intended for. I would be interested to know how the “small number” of people it will actually apply to differ from them in any significant way.

  • Hannah Bettsworth 30th Jan '14 - 2:52pm

    This is pretty much the best argument for why we need supranational human rights law. We’ve ratified a UN convention that states:

    Article 8

    1.A Contracting State shall not deprive a person of its nationality if such deprivation would render him stateless.

    2.Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph I of this article, a person may be deprived of the nationality of a Contracting State:

    (a) in the circumstances in which, under paragraphs 4 and 5 of article 7, it is permissible that a person should lose his nationality;

    (b) where the nationality has been obtained by misrepresentation or fraud.

    3.Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 1 of this article, a Contracting State may retain the right to deprive a person of his nationality, if at the time of signature, ratification or accession it specifies its retention of such right on one or more of the following grounds, being grounds existing in its national law at that time:

    (a) that, inconsistently with his duty of loyalty to the Contracting State, the person

    (i) has, in disregard of an express prohibition by the Contracting State rendered or continued to render services to, or received or continued to receive emoluments from, another State, or

    (ii) has conducted himself in a manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the State;

    (b) that the person has taken an oath, or made a formal declaration, of allegiance to another State, or given definite evidence of his determination to repudiate his allegiance to the Contracting State.

    4.A Contracting State shall not exercise a power of deprivation permitted by paragraphs 2 or 3 of this article except in accordance with law, which shall provide for the person concerned the right to a fair hearing by a court or other independent body.

    Article 9
    A Contracting State may not deprive any person or group of persons of their nationality on racial, ethnic, religious or political grounds.

    UN conventions, then, seem to act as a pretty good safeguard against overzealous Home Secretaries. Although I do still have my concerns about this.

    http://legal.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/6_1_1961.pdf

  • Caron – I don’t know where you have found the information about a power to deprive someone of statehood prior to 2003. That doesn’t sound right to me when the UK signed up to the Status of Stateless Persons in 1954 and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness in 1961. The latter prohibits a state from depriving a person of his nationality if such was to cause him to be stateless. Later the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act became law which said someone could be deprived of their citizenship on two specified grounds – if citizenship was granted due to fraud or misrepresentation or if conducive to the public good. However only the first (fraud) could be used where a person would then become stateless.

    In the Al-Jeddah decision the Supreme Court said that deprivation of citizenship leading to statelessness was not allowed. Hence today’s proposal. Here’s what the Supreme Court had to say about Statelessness:

    “The evil of statelessness became better understood following the re-drawing of national boundaries at the end of the two world wards of the twentieth century and following, for example, the Reich Citizenship Law dated 15 September 1935 which provided that all Jewish people should be stripped of their citizenship of the German Reich… the European Court of Human Rights recognises that the arbitrary denial of citizenship may violate the right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the Convention. In his dissenting judgment in Perez v Brownell Warren CJ described a right to nationality as “man’s basic right for it is nothing less than the right to have rights””.

    Here’s what the Home Office said less than a year ago in its guidance on Applications for leave to remain as a stateless person:

    “Statelessness has been estimated to affect up to 12 million people worldwide. Possession of nationality is essential for full participation in society and a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the full range of human rights. Those who are stateless may, for example, be denied the right to own land or exercise the right to vote. They are often unable to obtain identity documents; they may be detained because they are stateless; and they can be denied access to education and health services or blocked from obtaining employment.”

    Here’s what Theresa May said today:

    “A stateless person would not have a passport, and would not have full access to services”.

    This is an absolutely shocking thing for Nick Clegg to be supporting, no matter how few people he says it will affect.

  • I now hear that Labour and all Lib Dems will oppose Raab. Tory ministers abstain. Tory backbenchers (not all) will vote for.

    That should be enough to sink it, but what a shambles.

  • Tony Greaves 30th Jan '14 - 3:44pm

    It shows just how difficult it is to be in coalition with the Tories. It will get worse in the next 15 months.

    And then this awful ragbag of a Bill has to come to the Lords. Where Liberal Demcrat peers will be (yet again) instructed to vote for some dreadful illiberal stuff because it’s government policy.

    Tony Greaves

  • @Richard S – I suspect that neither Gerry Adams nor Martin McGuinness have ever had UK citizenship, as you can be a citizen of the Republic of Ireland and still stand for and be elected to the UK parliament. This therefore couldn’t apply to them, as they would not have UK citizenship to strip.

    I kind of see the point of this, though. If we have given citizenship to someone who has accepted our country’s general values in terms of democracy and rights, and they they plot to somehow overthrow that, then why should they be allowed to retain it? The problem comes if they are not tried and convicted – if there’s been a trial, then fair enough, but if not then it shouldn’t happen.

  • “If we have given citizenship to someone who has accepted our country’s general values in terms of democracy and rights, and they they plot to somehow overthrow that, then why should they be allowed to retain it? “

    You mean “if someone suspects them of plotting …”, even if the suspicion won’t stand up in court.

  • Stephen Donnelly 30th Jan '14 - 4:48pm

    @Tony Greaves : Being in government is always going to involve compromise, as much with Labour, as with the Tories. I don’t understand why Liberal Democrats had to support the government line on this issue when Conservatives (including ministers) were not obliged to do the same on the Raab amendment. The problem is that we fail to strike clear positions, and to have faith in our own convictions, rather than the particular coalition the electorate choose.

  • The quote from Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti raises a discussion point about just what is our responsibility to the international community in all this.

    Should the UK detain dangerous people just to keep them out of circulation and thereby protect other nations or should we limit our involvement to effectively removing them from the UK and (hopefully) prevent their re-entry, leaving it up to the person’s country of origin to control their citizens/ex-citizens.

    Perhaps we also need to make the granting of UK citizenship to non-natives conditional, so that their previous nationality is only put on ice rather than being superseded.

  • Chris Manners 30th Jan '14 - 5:43pm

    “Should the UK detain dangerous people just to keep them out of circulation and thereby protect other nations”

    That’s a good point not often made. I think the law leans towards those people staying in Britain because we’re much better placed than poorer countries to supervise them.

  • @Keith Legg, British citizenship is automatically awarded to most of us, regardless of whether we formally apply for a passport. They were born in the UK so it was automatically granted.

    @Roland, whether someone loses their original citizenship on gaining a new one depends on the laws of the original country. British law can’t freeze such provisions in (for example) Slovak law.

  • “This is an absolutely shocking thing for Nick Clegg to be supporting, no matter how few people he says it will affect.”

    It’s absolutely disgraceful, but surely no one can be shocked – or perhaps even very much surprised – considering all the other illiberal policies Clegg has supported over the past four years.

  • @Richard S re: Slovak law
    Thanks, your point about Slovak law indicates that the option to rescind UK citizenship is only going to be possible in a very limited set of circumstances.

    I was trying to suggest that in amending UK law with respect to the government being able to withdraw citizenship, it would make logical sense for it to also amend the law around the granting of citizenship (and/or residency) to reflect the new conditions of citizenship/residency, so that the (amended) law can be applied more broadly. Certainly, there is much to be worked through on the amendments to the immigration bill, whether you support them or not.

  • The biggest problem for Clegg is summed up by Mark Steel’s acerbic rant in Fridays Indie – its only only the start for the GE…expect more, and not all unjustified.

  • Roger Roberts 31st Jan '14 - 9:18am

    I too am astonished at Nick’s stance on withdrawing citizenship at the Home Secretary’s whim. This and other illiberal measures must be challenged in the Lords.

  • It’s not just Clegg, though, is it?

    How many Lib Dem MPs voted against Theresa May’s amendment? I can see only seven:
    Mike Crockart
    Duncan Hames
    Julian Huppert
    John Leech
    Sarah Teather
    Mike Thornton
    David Ward

  • Andrew Wimble 31st Jan '14 - 12:42pm

    To me depriving somebody of their citizenship seems like a very severe punishment to inflict on somebody who has never been convicted of any crime. Even if I trust the current government not to misuse such a power, and I am not sure that I do, who knows what future elections will bring.

  • “Although this amendment has been tabled at the last minute, there has been significant consultation within the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party, I’m told. They’ve looked at it very carefully and are satisfied that there are significant safeguards as this would only ever be done at the end of a legal process and would be open to judicial review.”

    I think whoever told you that was being very disingenuous. The only “legal process” provided for is that “The Secretary of State may by order deprive a person of a citizenship status if the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good” and the only requirements are that the citizenship was acquired by naturalisation and that “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”.

    I suppose the decision could be challenged in the courts, like other ministerial decisions, but given that the only statutory requirement is that the Home Secretary should be “satisfied” I don’t see how any challenge could succeed. And on top of that I suppose the judicial decision would be made in a secret court – if any evidence were required beyond the Home Secretary saying “Yes, I am satisfied”! Wonderful.

  • It sounds as though there are quite a few restrictions on how this could be done, which is reassuring. And might it not be the case that agreeing to this was part of a wider negotiation between Clegg and Theresa May (or Cameron?) in which Clegg obtained (or blocked) something else? I am happy to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  • “It sounds as though there are quite a few restrictions on how this could be done …”

    If you know of any restrictions at all, I’d be interested to hear about them.

  • Tony Dawson 31st Jan '14 - 5:25pm

    I am wondering just how many people there are in the world who are dual nationality British and ‘suspected’ terrorists.

    Isn’t all this just gesture politics? 🙁

  • Nick Barlow 31st Jan '14 - 8:35pm

    The problem with the ‘well, maybe he blocked something else’ argument is that there’s a fallacy about compromise. If one side says ‘we want to kill all the kittens’ and the other says ‘no, we don’t believe in killing kittens’, agreeing to kill half of them might look like a fair compromise only one side’s given up a basic principle. Whenever we trumpet that we might be allowing something but we’ve stopped it from being even worse, we just encourage the Tories to make their opening negotiating position extreme.

  • It shows just how difficult it is to be in coalition with the Tories. It will get worse in the next 15 months.

    And then this awful ragbag of a Bill has to come to the Lords. Where Liberal Demcrat peers will be (yet again) instructed to vote for some dreadful illiberal stuff because it’s government policy.

    Tony Greaves

    A good reason why the Liberals should never have done business with the ghastly authoritarian reactionary illiberal Tories

  • jedibeeftrix 1st Feb '14 - 10:58am

    “If one side says ‘we want to kill all the kittens’ and the other says ‘no, we don’t believe in killing kittens’, agreeing to kill half of them might look like a fair compromise only one side’s given up a basic principle.”

    I feel the same way about consensual government in general. 😉

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