The UK government’s citizenship proposals increasingly undermines the concept of citizenship for minorities.
According to new research, as many as six million British citizens face the spectre of potentially being stripped of their citizenship. The revelations came as the Conservative-led government in the UK seeks to introduce legislation that would make it even easier to deprive British nationals of their passport without them ever knowing about it.
The Nationality and Borders Bill currently making its way through parliament, if passed, would give the government significant powers to strip the citizenship of people who may have even one parent who holds a foreign passport.
In an analysis of the data looking at the UK’s Office for National Statistics, it was found that non-white ethnic minorities were significantly more likely to be eligible to have their citizenship taken away than their white counterparts.
Even before the current proposal, previous legislation used by the UK government was already “controversial”, says Tasnim Akunjee, a British lawyer specialising in terrorism-related cases. But at least, Akunjee says speaking to TRT World, under the current legislation, the authorities would have to notify an individual about the reasons they were being stripped of citizenship and crucially allow them to activate their right to appeal.
Akunjee has represented one of the most high-profile Brits who lost their passport, Shamima Begum, a British born girl who left the UK to join Daesh in Syria.
At the time, the British government rationalised that she was eligible for a Bangladeshi passport through her parents, a country she had never been to. The controversy around that debate brought into sharp focus the notion that the British state was redefining the idea of citizenship as one that was conditionally applied.
The idea that you could strip someone of their citizenship was already a “slippery slope” says Akunjee. Now, the new piece of legislation threatens to remove even the most basic guardrails that were in place.
“Between the 1970s and 2005, there were only 10 cases of citizenship stripping,” says Akunjee.
“Before the Home Office would have to show that your behaviour would be something that damaged the vital interests of the state, they would have to show that you exhibited Guy Fawkes level behaviour and intended to blow up parliament, something crazy. As a result, only a handful of people lost their citizenship in decades,” Akunjee added.
Since the 2006 legislation, the British government has had the power to strip dual nationals of their British citizenship if doing so is deemed to be “conducive to the public good”.
Consecutive governments have ramped the stripping of citizenships, and in 2017 alone, more than 100 British nationals were stripped of their citizenship. Over the years, hundreds have been deprived of their citizenship.
The human rights and immigration lawyer Fahad Ansari says that in practice, British nationals are already being deprived of their citizenship without being made aware, as many are outside the country.
What’s concerning about the latest piece of legislation, says Ansari speaking to TRT World, is the “further erosion of due process.”
“The fundamental issue is the entire deprivation policy itself lacks due process with absolutely no judicial oversight before the power is exercised,” he added.
“The only right of appeal kicks in after the order is made, during which time the individual is left stranded outside the UK without any of his rights as a British citizen,” says Ansari.
He adds that, “the appeal process is conducted in a tribunal where neither the individual nor his lawyers are told the specific allegations against him or shown evidence of wrongdoing.”
A petition to have the clause struck out of the Bill is currently gaining traction, and fears that the government is amassing increasingly draconian power is puncturing the public imagination. But Ansari is worried that after years of incrementally and judiciously amassing powers to deprive people of their citizenship, the campaign is already late.
“The current public concern surrounding deprivation reflects the general apathy when the legislation was introduced and utilised against those considered unworthy of protection or rights. Unfortunately, getting upset about the notice issue potentially impacting millions of citizens is the least of our concerns – the deprivation policy itself should have been the target of such campaigning many, many years ago,” said Ansari.