Action Alert: Understanding changes to citizenship stripping in the Nationality and Borders Bill
Thursday December 02 2021
In recent days, there has been a great deal of concern about changes to citizenship stripping powers planned in the Nationality and Borders Bill that is currently before Parliament. However, it is important to remember that many of the powers to strip someone of their citizenship are already in effect. The primary change in this new legislation is that the government would no longer have to inform someone that their citizenship has been removed.
What does the law currently say about citizenship stripping?
International law forbids states from revoking an individual’s only citizenship and thereby rendering them stateless. However, the Immigration Act 2014, allows the Home Secretary to strip someone of their citizenship even if it would make them stateless. Under this Act, the Home Secretary has the unilateral power to deprive British citizens of citizenship if they are; “satisfied that the deprivation is conducive to the public good” and they have “reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, to become a national of such a country or territory.”
Shamima Begum is a good example of this power as the then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, argued that he could remove her citizenship as she could theoretically apply for Bangladeshi citizenship through her parents, even though she was born British. It did not matter that she didn’t have the option of getting Bangladeshi citizenship in reality. As explained by Michael Spencer, “while historically the deprivation power applied only to naturalised citizens, s40 as currently worded permits its use against those who like Ms Begum were born with British citizenship. This risks creating a two-tier form of citizenship whereby second or third generation immigrants of foreign descent may be deprived of their citizenship, even if they hold no other discernible link with their ‘country of origin’.”As such, critics have widely condemned the legislation as reinforcing a second-class citizenship, particularly for Muslims and ethnic minorities.
Moreover, this legislation is inherently political in nature due to the fact that it is a power held by Secretary of State, who is ultimately a political representative of a political party. The Home Secretary is not a judicial appointment and in deploying this legislation there is no formal trial or process to ascertain guilt. In other words, citizenship stripping can be done for political reasons, with no due process and with almost no public scrutiny.
So, what is changing?
If the changes in the new Nationality and Borders Bill pass, the Government will not have to inform a person that their citizenship is being removed if:
- The Secretary of State does not have the information needed to be able to give notice (eg, if they don’t know where to find them),
- It is not “reasonably practicable”,
- It is not in the interests of national security,
- It is not in the interests of the relationship between the United Kingdom and another country,
- Or it is not otherwise in the public interest.
This provides the government a huge scope to remove someone’s citizenship without telling them, which would effectively remove their ability to appeal. In other words, these changes mean that the Home Secretary has an increasingly broad mandate to remove someone’s citizenship without their knowledge, meaning that they wouldn’t be able to practically fight the removal.
What can we do?
Beyond giving the Home Secretary even more draconian powers to remove someone’s citizenship, the Nationality and Borders Bill has been criticised as breaching international and domestic law in at least ten different ways.