How the government plan to secretly strip people of their citizenship
The government is seeking to acquire the power to secretly strip someone of their citizenship.
The Nationality and Borders Bill contains many dangerous and divisive provisions. It will damage the UK’s asylum system, hinder people from seeking asylum from torture and terror, and harm the victims of people smugglers, human traffickers and a host of other abusers.
But recently a new power that will permit the Home Secretary to secretly strip someone of their British citizenship was proposed.
This is a sinister power. It is also one that hugely disproportionately affects black and brown British people.
Stripping someone of their citizenship is extreme. Yet powers to do this have been extended over the last two decades and the number of people who have had their citizenship taken from them has grown.
The injustice of this is heightened by the fact that the power does not apply equally to all citizens. The result is creating tiered levels of citizenship and increasing fear amongst racialised communities in the UK.
Opposition to the new power
There has been widespread objection to the new power. A petition on the Parliament website has attracted well over 250,000 signatures in less than a fortnight.
This means Parliament will have to consider debating it at a time when the Bill itself is being considered in the House of Lords.
The more signatures that are added, the greater the chance the Bill will be debated and more importantly, the greater the chance of having the new power removed. The more this grows, the more confident the opposition in Parliament will become in their objections and the more Ministers will feel under pressure to remove it.
But…removing this new power is not enough
Stripping citizenship should never be done in secret. But even if the power to do that is removed, the Home Secretary still has the power to strip citizenship when she says it is in the ‘public good’ to do so. In some circumstances, these powers can even mean that a person is left stateless.
The power to strip citizenship will, therefore, continue to be damaging, divisive and unjust – both because the Home Secretary is given such wide discretion to exercise it and because it is applies so disproportionately to distinct racial and religious groups.
Racism in British nationality laws
However, the injustice and divisiveness of British nationality law – particularly how it is applied by the Home Office – goes very much further than citizenship stripping.
Dozens of people have been stripped of British citizenship. But many thousands more people are deprived of British citizenship by the Home Office simply refusing to recognise and register their right to it.
The many ways by which this is done also disproportionately affect black and brown British people – such as thousands of children, born in the UK, who grow up here entitled to citizenship but required to formally register their right to it.
An administrative fee of £35 for registration in 1983 has since been raised to a fee of over £1,000 – only £372 of which is said to be what it costs the Home Office to process someone’s registration. The remainder is profit to the department. This is a significant financial barrier to many.
Since 2006, the Home Office has also applied a requirement that children as young as 10, who wish to exercise their right to citizenship, must show themselves to be ‘good’.
An insult to all British people and their citizenship
If our Government continues down this dangerous path, there will inevitably be disastrous consequences, especially for racialised people.
We must do all we can to remove this provision from the Bill.
But that is not enough. There remains much else that must be done to restore full and equal respect for British citizenship from our own Government – the very people who ought to be most engaged to defend it.
The wider impact of this Bill – particularly on people who are seeking asylum and looking for safe passage to Britain, predominantly from the global south – must also not be understated.
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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.