But many in House of Lords speak out against it
By Ricky Browne
An online petition that was signed by more than 315,000 people has been rejected by the Government today.
The petition called for the removal of Clause 9 from the Nationality and Borders Bill, which allows for the state to strip British people of their citizenship without warning.
If a petition gets 100,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in Parliament.
The petition did have a decent number of signatures, at 315,313 today, but that fades in comparison to the 6.1 million signatures for a petition that sought to revoke Article 50 and for the UK to remain in the European Union.
Comparative petitions included Limiting the Sale and Use of Fireworks to Organisers of Licensed Displays Only (301,611 signatures) which was debated on November 8; a petition to Reduce University student tuition fees from £9250 to £3000 which got 581,287 signatures and was debated on October 25, and a petition to Outlaw discrimination against those who do not get a Covid-19 vaccination which got 347,514 signares and was debated on September 20.
Under the Nationality and Borders Bill – which was passed by the house on — the state would have the right to remove a person’s British Citizenship without warning if it is “reasonably practicable” to do so, or if it is in the interests of national security, diplomatic relations or is otherwise in the public interest. But the government responded today saying that it “will not remove Clause 9”
“It is necessary to ensure deprivation powers can be used effectively and will only apply in very limited circumstances. It does not affect the right to appeal.”
In its statement today, released on the Parliament site on petitions, the Government said that it “recognises that to deprive someone of British citizenship is a very serious matter and it is a power reserved for those whose conduct poses a threat to the UK, involves very high harm, or where citizenship has been obtained by fraudulent means and so the person was never entitled to it in the first place. “
The statement tried to address concerns that a person could be unfairly made stateless and said:
“Deprivation on ‘conducive to the public good’ grounds is rare, has been possible for over a century, comes with a right of appeal and is used against people like terrorists to keep the public safe.”
But there had also been concern that this power could be used against people who were not terrorists. The statement tried to quell those fears.
“Such decisions are therefore made following careful consideration of advice from officials and lawyers and in accordance with domestic and international law as well as the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness,” it said.
“Clause 9 doesn’t change any of that. It is simply about how someone is notified. It cannot be right that the proper functioning of the immigration and nationality system is impeded because an individual has removed themselves from contact with the Home Office, or they are in a war zone where they cannot be contacted, or where to make contact would disclose sensitive intelligence sources.”
The Clause, it seems, is to protect the State’s right to deprive someone of their British Citizenship – particularly if they have behaved in a treasonous fashion.
“This clause is therefore necessary to avoid the situation where we could never deprive a person of their British citizenship just because it is not practicable, or not possible, to communicate with them. Preserving the ability to make decisions in this way is vitally important to preserve the integrity of the UK immigration system and to protect the security of the UK from those who would wish to do us harm,” the Government said.
The Government statement, which was issued by the Home Office, emphasised that anyone deprived of their British citizenship, would still have the right to appeal.
“However, the Government wishes to make clear that it does not intend to deny a person their statutory right of appeal where a decision to deprive has been made. The amendment to section 40A of the British Nationality Act 1981 preserves the right of appeal in cases where the notice of a decision to deprive has not been given to the person as their current whereabouts are unknown. Once a person makes contact with the Home Office, they are given a copy of the deprivation decision notice. They can then seek to exercise their statutory right to appeal against that decision.”
How possible it will be for many individuals who are denied access to the UK to make that appeal – especially if they have limited funds – will no doubt be tested in time.
But the statement also tried to make clear that there was no real change in existing policy, and therefore, nothing to be alarmed about.
“The Government is not extending deprivation powers through the inclusion of this measure and is not denying a person their statutory right of appeal where a decision to deprive has been made. The proposed amendment preserves this right. The change is simply intended to ensure existing powers can be used effectively in all appropriate circumstances and does not in any way represent a policy change in this important area of work.”
In the meantime, it is unlikely that Shamima Begum will be regaining her British citizenship any time soon. Begum was one of three British girls who decided to leave the UK to join the so-called ISIS, an extremist group based in Iraq and Syria which was killing people, including Westerners, in barbaric fashion.
The House of Lords debated the Bill yesterday, concentrating mainly on the issues of asylum and refugees.
But the issue behind Clause 9 was addressed by many, including Baroness Fox of Buckley, who said:
“I do not want to add to the climate of moral panic about Clause 9. When the New Statesman reported in December that Clause 9 threatens the citizenship of nearly 6 million British people, half of all British Asians and 39% of black Britons, those bald figures went viral. Many are and were understandably frightened that Priti Patel was about to turf thousands of people out of the UK; you have only to see my email inbox to see that this is a very real fear,” according to Hansard.
“However, the Government must understand that handing even more powers over to the Home Secretary to remove someone’s citizenship in secret, without notification, effectively making appeals impossible and statelessness a real possibility, is a concern to British citizens and that Clause 9 is a problem,” she said.
“I am not satisfied that this will be used only in extremis in dealing with the likes of Shamima Begum, “Jihadi Jack” Letts or others who joined the barbaric and murderous ISIS fighters. At the moment, too many are dubbed “extremists” and I want to know who defines that. I also note that whenever a power is argued for to be used in only extreme cases, it inevitably expands and is used more widely,” she said.
“The power to remove citizenship was brought to the fore in 2005 by Tony Blair’s Labour Government, and was then used increasingly and with broader provisions, especially by Theresa May when Home Secretary—the same Theresa May whose respect for British citizens was rather exposed by the Windrush scandal, which disgracefully still rumbles on and is a situation in which British citizens in all but the paperwork were stripped of their rights, deported and so on. Mea culpas and sections of this Bill do not reassure me, especially if they carry on sitting with Clause 9,” she said.
“What really worries me is the Home Office’s response to all this on Clause 9. It is constantly quoted as saying:
“British citizenship is a privilege, not a right.”
“Excuse me? Actually, British citizenship is a right for all British citizens. It worries me that the Home Office considers it its gift to hand down or snatch away. It suggests a two-tier citizenship atmosphere. Frances Webber, vice-chair of the Institute of Race Relations, spells out the consequences when she says that it “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,” Baronnes Fox said.
“If this Government want to encourage new migrants to integrate into British society and make them feel welcome, they should drop Clause 9,” she concluded.
She was supported by Baroness Chakrabarti, who said: “Clause 9 has rightly caused outrage in civil society—if not sufficient media coverage or even debating time in the other place. To deprive a national of that status without notice should be beyond the contemplation of any civilised society that cares about rights and freedoms in general and due process in particular. A nation’s citizens are its responsibility and are not to be dumped like waste, even or especially on the vague and subjective grounds of security, diplomatic relations or“otherwise in the public interest”,” she said according to Hansard.
Lord Anderson of Ipswich also agreed.
“There is already apprehension, especially and understandably among people of mixed heritage, about this country’s unusually far-reaching powers to remove citizenship. The proposal to allow the use of those largely unmonitored powers to be kept secret, even from a subject who could perfectly easily be told, has predictably compounded those fears.
“Clause 9 has been insufficiently thought through; at least, I hope that is the explanation. We can, and must, do much better,” he said.
Also coming out against Clause 9 was Lord Woolley of Woodford who said that the it does not render him and other like him to the status of second-class citizens, as that had already been achieved by previous governments.
“Clause 9 in effect makes me a third-class citizen, by, if deemed necessary, taking away my right to appeal against being stripped of citizenship,” he said.
“To be clear, I am proud—very proud—to be a British citizen, but British citizenship is not a privilege; it is an honour. Complicit in that honour should be a gold-standard citizenship, not a second-class one as mine is, and definitely not a third-class one, as Clause 9 would have. We all need a first-class British citizenship for every British citizen that is not precarious—one that gives us true hope, a greater sense of belonging and an equal footing for everyone.
“Today and going forward, we must hold this line. To Clause 9 we say thanks, but no thanks. When the time comes, drop the tribal politics and vote for decency. Vote for something we can be proud of,” he said according to Hansard.
Anyone interested in viewing the petition in full, and perhaps signing it, can go to: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/601583/signatures/new