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What Does the Nationality and Borders Bill Mean for British Citizenship?

There has already been a considerable amount of controversy surrounding the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently in its second reading in the House of Lords as of the time of writing. A large element of this controversy centres on the potential powers that the new law, if it gains Royal Assent, will give the Home Secretary when determining if a person should lose their British citizenship. In this article, we will take a closer look at the proposed Bill and what this may mean for British citizenship.

What is the Nationality and Borders Bill?

The Nationality and Borders Bill 1, previously referred to as the “Sovereign Borders Bill”, proposes a number of reforms to the UK’s current asylum system. The Bill aims to:

  • Make the system fairer and more effective to better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum.
  • To deter illegal entry into the UK, breaking the business model of criminal trafficking networks and saving lives.
  • To remove from the UK those with no right to be in the UK.

According to the Home Office 2, “The system is broken. We stand by our moral and legal obligations to help innocent people fleeing cruelty from around the world. But the system must be a fair one”.

The proposals include changes to how the Home Office can remove a person’s citizenship (referred to as “deprivation of citizenship”).

What does the Nationality and Borders Bill say about deprivation of citizenship?

The Nationality and Borders Bill recommends an amendment to section 40(5) of the British Nationality Act 1981 3, which covers the notice to be given when removing citizenship. This subsection currently states:

“Before making an order under this section in respect of a person, the Secretary of State must give the person written notice specifying—

(a)that the Secretary of State has decided to make an order,

(b)the reasons for the order, and

(c)the person’s right of appeal under section 40A(1) or under section 2B of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997 (c. 68).”

Section 9 of the Bill adds in a section which states:

“(5A) Subsection (5) does not apply if it appears to the Secretary of State

that—

(a) the Secretary of State does not have the information needed to

be able to give notice under that subsection,

(b) it would for any other reason not be reasonably practicable to

give notice under that subsection, or

(c) notice under that subsection should not be given—

(i) in the interests of national security,

(ii) in the interests of the relationship between the United

Kingdom and another country, or

(iii) otherwise, in the public interest.”

In other words, the new Bill will remove the requirement to tell a person they are being stripped of their citizenship for a wide range of reasons.

Does the Home Secretary already have the power to remove citizenship?

Yes, under laws introduced in 2006 following the 2005 London bombings, the Home Secretary has the power to strip a person of their British citizenship if it is “conducive to the public good”. Section 40(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981 states, “The Secretary of State may by order deprive a person of a citizenship status if the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good”.

This power may be used where a person is involved in certain activities such as espionage, terrorism, war crimes, serious and organised crime or other “unacceptable behaviours” 4. Unacceptable behaviour may include where a person uses means or mediums such as writing, producing, publishing or distributing material, public speaking including preaching, running a website, or using a position of responsibility such as teacher, community or youth leader to:

  • foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs;
  • seek to provoke others to terrorist acts;
  • foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts or;
  • foster hatred, which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK

This power was used by the Home Secretary was used to remove the British citizenship of the former Islamic State supporter Shamima Begum who was born in the UK.

What has been the reaction to removing the notice of deprivation of citizenship?

Understandably, the Home Office’s plans have not been well received by charities such as Reprieve, which seeks to defend victims of human rights abuses. The organisation’s director, Maya Foa, said of the new plans to remove notice of deprivation of citizenship 5, “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. Under this regime, a person accused of speeding would be afforded more rights than someone at risk of being deprived of their British nationality. This once again shows how little regard this government has for the rule of law”.

For their part, the Home Office defended their plans by stating, “British citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Deprivation of citizenship on conducive grounds is rightly reserved for those who pose a threat to the UK or whose conduct involves very high harm. The nationality and borders bill will amend the law so citizenship can be deprived where it is not practicable to give notice, for example, if there is no way of communicating with the person”.

Final words

The Home Office affirms that they will only use this new power to remove citizenship if a person is "incommunicado". The problem is that the wide discretion afforded to the Home Secretary under this Bill means that this may not always be the case. If it is in the public good or for national security reasons to remove citizenship, the Home Office may be able to use this power even where a person is contactable. This proposed change to the law makes the status of British citizenship precarious for many people living in the UK, many of whom were born and have lived their whole life here. It may also be that this law can be used retrospectively to prevent those who have already had their citizenship removed without notice from appealing. As such, if introduced, this law may do little more than further reinforce the notion that the UK is a hostile environment for some immigrants.

For expert assistance with deprivation of citizenship or any other immigration matter, contact Reiss Edwards, immigration lawyers and solicitors in London, on 020 3744 2797 or by email at info@reissedwards.co.uk

References:

1 UK Parliament: National and Borders Bill

2 Home office: Nationality and borders bill: factsheet

3 GOV.UK: British Nationality Act 1981

4 UK Parliament: Exclusion Orders: Question for the Home Office

5 The Guardian: New bill quietly gives powers to remove British citizenship without notice

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