Words by Rebecca Chitolie, News Editor
A new amendment to a comprehensive immigration bill could allow the Home Office to strip individuals of their British citizenship without notice to appeal, if legislation debated in Parliament becomes law.
Proposed rule changes to the Nationality and Borders bill, Clause 9 – “Notice of decision to deprive a person of citizenship”, updated earlier this month, exempts the government from needing to give notice if it is not “reasonably practicable” to do so, or in the interests of national security, diplomatic relations or otherwise in the public interest.
However, campaigners have warned that the removal of British citizenship without notice ‘would repeat Windrush mistakes’.
Calling for the government to drop the bill, Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy said: “Giving the Home Office powers to strip people of their British citizenship without so much as telling them shows this government’s total disregard for international law and their refusal to learn from past failures.”
“Just like the legislation that caused the Windrush Scandal, there’s nothing to stop this being used more widely. It puts naturalised citizens and the children of naturalised citizens at risk, which is likely to disproportionately affect people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.”
The Runnymede Trust, a racial equality think tank, claimed the clause could have a dire impact for everyone, but “in particular for Black and ethnic minority Britons”.
“This will directly affect those who are under threat from hostile environment policies, including those who are not given the right to a fair trial and those vulnerable to deportation.”
Frances Webber, the vice-chair of the Institute of Race Relations, said: “This amendment sends the message that certain citizens, despite being born and brought up in the UK and having no other home, remain migrants in this country. Their citizenship, and therefore all their rights, are precarious and contingent.”
“It builds on previous measures to strip British-born dual nationals of citizenship and to do it while they are abroad, measures used mainly against British Muslims. It unapologetically flouts international human rights obligations and basic norms of fairness.”
The proposed changes appear months after the UK Supreme Court ruled that Shamima Begum, the British-born 15 year-old who fled Britain to join the Islamic State in Syria, would not be allowed to return to the United Kingdom to fight a legal case about the revocation of her citizenship.
The British government argued in the Begum case that cancelling her British citizenship would not leave her stateless as she could gain citizenship in Bangladesh, where she has relatives. However, Begum has not been to Bangladesh and the country has refused to let her in.
These measures have been in headlines in recent years, after several Western governments revoked the citizenships of individuals who had allegedly joined Islamist terrorist groups. Some of these people had complex citizenship situations or multiple passports, creating disagreement between countries over who should take responsibility.
Home Office powers to strip British nationals of their citizenship were introduced after the 2005 London bombings. However, their use increased while Theresa May was home secretary from 2010 and were broadened in 2014, but were most notably used in the case of Shamima Begum. In a statement responding to reports, a Home Office spokesperson said, “British citizenship is a privilege, not a right”.
The requirement to provide notice had already been weakened in 2018, allowing the Home Office to serve notice by putting a copy of it on a person’s file – but only in cases where their whereabouts were unknown.
This new clause would remove the need for notification altogether in a range of circumstances. It also appears to be capable of being applied retrospectively to cases where an individual was stripped of citizenship without notice before the clause became law, raising questions about their ability to appeal.
Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve, which fights for victims of extreme human rights abuses, said: “This clause would give Priti Patel unprecedented power to remove your citizenship in secret, without even having to tell you, and effectively deny you an appeal. This once again shows how little regard this government has for the rule of law.”
Other proposed rule changes in the bill have also attracted criticism. This includes rendering claims from anyone arriving in the UK by an illegal route inadmissible, while criminalising them and anyone who attempts to save their lives, and giving Border Force staff immunity from prosecution if people die in the Channel during “pushback” operations.
Tory MP David Davis has tabled an amendment seeking to deny the government powers to “offshore” asylum seekers. On his official Twitter account Davis said “It is clear that asylum offshoring would be both a moral and economic failure”. He outlined why he believed this system would be a failure through the comparison of the Australian offshoring system.
A similar system of offshore facilities currently in existence is run by the Australian government, which sends asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea or Nauru.
“Research from the University of New South Wales found the Australian system cost approximately £4.3 billion since July 2013”, said Davis.
“For the cost of £4.3 billion, the Refugee Council of Australia reports that 3,127 asylum seekers were offshored to Nauru or Papua New Guinea. Costing approximately £1.38 million for each person detained offshore.”
“In the UK, we currently spend £1.4bn annually on asylum costs, or £11,819 per person.”
He went on to explain, “On top of high costs, the cruelty of the Australian system is clear. Of the 2,116 reports of assaults, sexual abuse, and self-harm attempts, over half involve children. However, children only made up about 18% of those in detention on Nauru.”
The UK’s new plans are thought to cost £100,00 per person – which The Times reported to be 10 times more than the cost of processing asylum seekers in the UK.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab did not deny talks were taking place, telling Times Radio the government was “looking at international partnerships” to reduce the “pull factor”.
The Home Office said: “Migrants making these dangerous crossings are putting their lives at risk and it is vital we do everything we can to prevent them and break the business model of the criminal gangs exploiting people.”
“People should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in, and as part of our response it is important we have a maritime deterrent in the channel and work with international partners to put an end to these dangerous journeys.”
The Nationality and Borders bill is currently in the Report stage, which will immediately be followed by debate on the bill’s 3rd reading in the House of Commons.
Editor’s Note; details are correct at time of writing 22/11/21