MPs Support Alarming Citizenship-Stripping Measures Introduced by Theresa May

7.5.14

A UK passport and a certificate of naturalisation.Is there no end to this government’s flagrant disregard for the fundamental rights of its citizens? Today, by 305 votes to 239, the House of Commons overturned amendments to the current Immigration Bill made by the House of Lords, which concerned home secretary Theresa May’s proposals to strip naturalised British citizens of their citizenship without any form of due process, even if doing so makes the individuals in question stateless.

Back in March, as I described it in my article, “The UK’s Unacceptable Obsession with Stripping British Citizens of Their UK Nationality” MPs first voted, by 297 votes to 34, to pass the citizenship-stripping clause, which Theresa May had added to the Immigration Bill in January, and which, due to its addition at the last minute, had not received any scrutiny. Since 2002, the government has had the power to remove the citizenship of dual nationals who they believe to have done something “seriously prejudicial” to the UK, but May’s new legislation was designed to increase her powers, “allowing her to remove the nationality of those who have acquired British citizenship, even if it will make them stateless, if they have done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests’ of the UK,” as described in December by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has been covering this story closely.

In April, by 242 votes to 180, the House of Lords replaced the proposal with an amendment requiring it to be further considered by a joint committee of the Commons and Lords before being implemented, an eminently sensible proposal that should not have been overturned by 305 MPs in the House of Commons.

As the London-based legal action charity Reprieve described it in a press release, “The Government had brought forward minor tweaks to the proposal in response to the Lords’ criticisms, but even with these in place the decision to deprive Britons of their citizenship will still be entirely in the hands of the Home Secretary, and it will still be possible to render Britons stateless as a result. As it will only apply to naturalised Britons — people not born as UK citizens — the proposal will create two classes of citizens: those who are vulnerable to having their citizenship arbitrarily removed at any time, without any requirement for a legal process, and those who (through accident of birth) are not.”

The Bill will now return to the House of Lords, for the next round in what Reprieve described as “Parliamentary ‘ping-pong.’” Those who care about the rights of UK citizens can write to members of the House of Lords here (or here or here) to encourage them to oppose the clause when it returns to them for consideration.

It remains profoundly important that the clause is removed from the legislation, because it is so at odds with the values that the UK claims to uphold. As I explained when MPs first passed the citizenship-stripping clause in March:

The Bureau [of Investigative Journalism] has established that 41 individuals have been stripped of their British nationality since 2002, and that 37 of these cases have taken place under Theresa May, since the Tory-led coalition government was formed in May 2010, with 27 of these cases being on the grounds that their presence in the UK is “not conducive to the public good.” In December, the Bureau confirmed that, in 2013, Theresa May “removed the citizenship of 20 individuals — more than in every other year of the Coalition government put together.” As the Bureau suggested in February 2013, it appears that, in two cases, the stripping of UK citizenship led to the men in question subsequently being killed by US drone attacks.

The two men, Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese citizen who grew up in London, and Mohamed Sakr, a British-Egyptian citizen who was born in the UK, travelled to Somalia in 2009, where they allegedly became involved with the militant group al-Shabaab. Theresa May stripped both men of their British nationalities in 2010, and, as the Bureau described it:

In June 2011 Mr. Berjawi was wounded in the first known US drone strike in Somalia and [in 2012] was killed by a drone strike – within hours of calling his wife in London to congratulate her on the birth of their first son. His family have claimed that US forces were able to pinpoint his location by monitoring the call he made to his wife in the UK. Mr. Sakr, too, was killed in a US airstrike in February 2012 … Mr. Sakr’s former UK solicitor said there appeared to be a link between the Home Secretary removing citizenships and subsequent US actions. “It appears that the process of deprivation of citizenship made it easier for the US to then designate Mr. Sakr as an enemy combatant, to whom the UK owes no responsibility whatsoever,” Saghir Hussain said.

Back in March, I also mentioned how Ian Macdonald QC, the president of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, who has long opposed the disturbing trend towards secrecy and unaccountability in Britain’s post-9/11 anti-terror laws, described the citizenship orders as “sinister,” and said of the government, “They’re using executive powers and I think they’re using them quite wrongly. It’s not open government; it’s closed, and it needs to be exposed.”

Back in December, when approached by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for an explanation of why there had been a marked rise in deprivation of citizenship orders, a spokesperson for the Home Office did not provide a direct answer, but said, “Citizenship is a privilege, not a right, and the Home Secretary will remove British citizenship from individuals where she feels it is conducive to the public good to do so.”

That is patently untrue. Citizenship is a right not a privilege, and anyone who worries about the abuse of executive power needs to speak up and be heard. At present, Theresa May is aiming her unacceptable policy at British Muslims travelling to Syria, but who knows who she — or future home secretaries — will decide is the next enemy within?

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).

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25 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    This is getting to be like “Groundhog Day.” Today, MPs voted to reinstate the citizenship-stripping powers inserted into the latest Immigration Bill by home secretary Theresa May. In March, MPs voted for the dreadful proposal to allow May to strip the citizenship of dual nationals without any sort of due process, even if it leaves them stateless, but it was then wisely overturned by the House of Lords. Now it heads back to the Lords again.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Saleyha Ahsan “liked” it on Facebook, and wrote:

    The like is actually for your comment Andy not the mad plans!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I thought so, Saleyha, unless you had had some kind of massive brainwashing event since we last spoke! So now we know – 305 of our MPs have happily bought into the Islamophobic hysteria peddled by Theresa May and the security services without a murmur of dissent. What a poor showing for democracy and for habeas corpus, born in England, whose 800th birthday is next year.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Mariam Aurangzeb wrote:

    Scare tactics…government getting all scared because of repercussions to their own foreign policy

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, although they’re not necessarily even honest enough to recognize that, Mariam. They want everyone to agree with them, or to be silent if they do disagree. They want to be able to treat all dissent as terrorism.

  6. Thomas says...

    I doubt they would take any white, non-Islamic person’s citizenship away.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, because as they see it it’s only the Muslims we have to worry about, Thomas. Alarmingly, they wouldn’t do this to neo-Nazis, but I bet they’ll soon be trying to extend it to British citizens born in the UK, but whose family they can trace to somewhere else – as the Canadian government has suggested should happen to Omar Khadr, born in Canada to an Egyptian-born father. I imagine, for example, there are some people who want to establish a context in which they can send Moazzam Begg to Pakistan, even though he’s a British citizen born in the UK.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Hena H. Siddiqui wrote, in response to the vote:

    Ridiculous.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Mariam Aurangzeb wrote:

    Currently saying Syria is as if you went to a cabinet meeting and said ‘BOO’ lol scaring the crap outta David Cameron :-)

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Hena, and thanks again, Mariam. Yes, “Syria” has become the new terrorism buzzword, even though, until recently, the British government was supporting some of the people now referred to as terrorists. We need transparency from ministers and the security services. Asking us to trust them just isn’t sufficient.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. My apologies for posting it so late yesterday, but it was my son’s parents’ evening, and I didn’t know the result until I arrived home. It remains a hugely important topic, one that ought to be of concern to anyone who believes that something as important as the intended deprivation of citizenship should involve the courts and not just the whims of government ministers and the untested assertions of the security services. For anyone who wants to know more, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported on the Parliamentary debate yesterday: http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2014/05/07/how-it-happened-live-tweeting-the-house-of-commons-debate-on-statelessness/

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Hena H. Siddiqui wrote:

    Thanks Andy for keeping everyone informed. This stuff is ever hardly headline news when it absolutely should be. Everyone should be aware of how easily our rights are being snatched from us.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree, Hena. It’s appalling that so few media outlets are interested, and that so many MPs are prepared to support Theresa May whose excesses should never be indulged.

  14. Marion Vermeersch says...

    This is not good news at all, Andy. In fact, it is extremely appalling and I am very disappointed. Here I have been telling people for the last 10 years here in Canada that I wish we had a Citizenship like that in the UK, where they don’t just go in your file, take your citizenship ( in my case it was in 2003, after nearly 60 years) and not even tell you: you find out when you apply for something like Old Age Pension or a passport and there is no forum for appeal at all.
    Am I right in thinking that these governments were thrown into complete paranoia by the events on 9/11? I know there were some problems from the end of WWII to that time, but it seems that most people I have heard of lost their Canadian citizenship after 2001. There were 12 reasons given for doing so, all of which seem ridiculous; they did have to restore a large percentage of them in 2009, but we are still out of luck (I am in the Children of War Brides group). I’m sure the UK will find lots of problems arising through this, lots of people losing citizenship who did nothing wrong but becoming victims of some politician’s personal prejudices and beliefs.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I completely understand your disappointment, Marion. It’s not over, as it now goes back to the Lords, and I expect there will be serious opposition – again – but this government has a history of disregarding the Lords when it suits them. What particularly disappoints me is that so many MPs have refused to stand up for the rights of naturalised British citizens, making them into second-class citizens. As Reprieve explained, that’s 3.4 million people, according to the 2011 census.
    You’re correct, of course, to point out that this hysteria began after 9/11. In the UK, for example, beginning in December 2001, a number of foreign nationals who had sought asylum in the UK were imprisoned as terror suspects without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence that they weren’t allowed to see, and in 2002 the laws governing nationality were first amended to allow dual nationals to be stripped of their nationality if the home secretary regards them as having done something “seriously prejudicial” to the UK. That’s a law that I don’t believe should have been passed in the first place, and without it, of course, the government would have faced an uphill struggle trying to justify stripping people of their citizenship even if it makes them stateless, as with the current proposals.
    In your last line, you touch on the fundamental problem of accountability – or rather, the home secretary’s lack of it – and predict accurately that, without objective scrutiny, there will be no way of confirming whether the government’s citizenship-stripping is based on facts, or on suspicion, or on profoundly flawed intelligence, as is so often the case when the government and the security services ask us to trust them.

  16. Peace Activist says...

    I do believe this stripping of citizenship is a disgusting move from Mrs May and the Home Office; however I think all the ingredients of this ideology have been coming together for some time. The Home Office and all their cronies fear the cost and embarrassment of more compensation pay outs, and the loosing of face before their American masters. Only this evening I watched the news, of Britain being taken before the International Criminal Court. I think the EU has upset the Home Office by hampering their plans to extradite various people to the United States; out of all this discord has grown a vibrant political campaign for the UK to leave the EU and “not be dictated to by a bunch of foreigners”. The fact that leaving the EU is such a big issue seems to me, not the important part of things; but the fact, human rights and immigration are the driving force of the campaign. The major political parties feel the need to reach down towards the cheap larger end of political support, the spiting halfwit that will not think about anything; but would support any form of skulduggery against those they perceive to be foreigners. I’m sure the Home Office know this sort situation is by no means a panacea for the future but an opportunistic peace of luck that they will take advantage of. The stripping of citizenship, extraditions, covering up of renditions and so on is far easier in a country with a strong right wing support. I believe that evidence pointing towards the collapse of democracy in the UK is coming to light all around us, ironically most of the people will welcome what in the end destroys them. I have written to the Home Office and my MP regarding this issue and other issues such as Moazzam Begg. There appears to be a total news blackout surrounding Moazam Begg.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Peace Activist. I hope all is well with you.
    You have touched on a number of relevant topics – the rightward drift of politics and the racism that accompanies it, and how this indicates the alarming collapse of democracy in the UK, as well as the silence surrounding Moazzam Begg. I have discussed this recently on Facebook, via my friend Karin Friedmann, who asked, “Is there any official update about Moazzam Begg?” https://www.facebook.com/andyworthingtonUK/posts/10152472170303804
    I wrote, “Not that I know of, Karin. I am finding it disappointing that there is so little coverage. Nothing in the mainstream media at all, even though it must be asked why bail would be denied for a man whose passport has been taken away from him, and who is not accused of taking part in any kind of violent crime that would make him a possible menace to others.”
    Maryam Hassan wrote, “I believe there are reporting restrictions, Andy, which prevent any coverage e.g. of the fact he was denied bail or anything else discussed at the hearings.”
    I wrote, “What you write is very disturbing – reporting restrictions which include any mention of his bail application being denied, “or anything else discussed at the hearings.” Was there a reason given for these restrictions?”
    Karin then wrote an article, published here: http://muslimmedianetwork.com/mmn/?p=15413
    I wrote, “Thanks, Karin – in particular for highlighting the outrageous media blackout. As you note, CAGE (formerly Cageprisoners) for which Moazzam was the director, stated after the bail hearing on May 2, ‘CAGE would like to comment on MB [Moazzam Begg's] bail hearing … but we have been gagged along with every journalist who attended the court. We direct all media requests to the court and Her Majesty’s government.’”

  18. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks for your continuing efforts to keeping this important issue in discussion.

    In related news, yesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada endorsed the Canadian government’s use of “Minister’s certificates”. These allow them to indefinitely detain immigrants, refugees, and other individuals who would otherwise have legal residency permission. They can be detained on secret innuendo.

    In an earlier ruling the Supreme Court had ruled the government had to provide a mechanism for detainees’ lawyers to challenge the secret evidence. Part of yesterday’s ruling was an endorsement ot the amended procedure. The Amended procedure provided for nominally independent appointees to summarize the secret evidence — as if this could possibly be adequate.

    Courts in Canada, the UK, and the USA, make the huge mistake of basically trusting secret evidence was reliable. It seems that the core recordings used to justify the detention of Mohammed Harkat, the key challenger to these certificates, have been lost, destroyed, or recorded over. The Supreme Court ruling nevertheless accepts that security officials’ decades old conclusion that Harkat was part of a “sleeper cell” was meaningful, because partial transcripts and summaries remained.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. It’s a poor time for Canadian justice. I’m currently engaged in an ongoing exchange with Marion Vermeersch. a “Lost Canadian,” on the thread here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2014/03/25/the-uks-unacceptable-obsession-with-stripping-british-citizens-of-their-uk-nationality/
    I agree with you absolutely about the fundamental problems with secret evidence in the US, the UK and Canada, and how outrageous it is that we’re supposed to trust the security services, when even a small amount of objective research establishes that the so-called evidence is often profoundly untrustworthy. The shameful treatment of Mohammed Harkat appears to be a case in point.

  20. Akira says...

    To strip the citizenship of an individual is akin to the practices…The Lords must continue to oppose this dangerous measure…Learn more from http://www.high-net-worth-immigration.com

  21. anna says...

    I’ve been thinking, aren’t there any VIP Brits with either double citizenship or at least born something else? Or even of foreign ancestry as can be seen by their name, such as John Gielgud? For instance classical -or pop- musicians, filmers, actors.
    The (Polish) filmer Paweł Pawlikowski (do go and see his Ida :-) lives in Britain, although I have no idea with which nationality.

    Maybe such persons could be activated to speak up and highlight the discrepancy in treatment between VIP ex-foreigners and muslim ones?

  22. anna says...

    Oops, forgot to mention bi-citizenship football players, how could I !!! :-)

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, OK, that’s very specific spamming, at least, Akira. The website “High net worth immigration” states, “We help wealthy individuals and their families secure alternative residency and irrevocable citizenship through a variety of investment programs.”

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna.
    It’s an interesting idea, but my immediate thought was to wonder how many people who have ended up in a privileged position regarding their nationality are actually bothered about those less fortunate than themselves – especially Muslims visiting warzones. Perhaps I’m feeling unduly pessimistic this evening, but I don’t see much empathy around, or concern with trying to help out those less fortunate than oneself.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Just to provide an update: On May 12, the House of Lords passed the citizenship-stripping clause after the government offered a concession, which is certainly an improvement on the original proposal, but still should not have been passed.
    As Al-Jazeera reported:

    The UK’s House of Lords has approved a controversial law allowing the government to strip citizenship from naturalised Britons it accuses of terrorism.

    In April, the upper house of the British parliament had rejected the measure proposed by Theresa May, the UK’s interior minister, but passed the law on Monday after a government amendment.

    Members of the house voted 286 to 193 in favour of the amended legislation, peers from the opposition Labour party voted against.

    The lords reversed course after May accepted the addition of a clause that would only allow citizenship to be taken away if there were “reasonable grounds” to believe suspects could acquire another nationality.

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