As featured in Edition 40, available here.
BY MATTHEW OULTON (3rd year - Economics - Merseyside, UK)
My partner and I were both born in the UK. We are both full British citizens. To deny either of us our rights as a British person would be contrary to the entire concept of citizenship, which, if you’re going to accept the idea of nation states at all, is a necessary condition. She and I should be entirely equal under the law. And yet we are not.
You see, my partner’s family is Northern Irish. As a result, she, like millions of other Britons, is entitled to claim Irish citizenship alongside UK citizenship. Indeed, this choice is a key principle of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of conflict in the UK and Ireland. Whereas I have no citizenship except my British citizenship, my partner is also Irish.
Of course, there are benefits to Irish citizenship. My partner can live and work in any European Union country she wishes, as well as in the UK. She can claim diplomatic protection from an Irish embassy, and could vote in Ireland if resident there.
But her British Citizenship is also valued less by our government.
Today, under current British law, if the Home Office deems it ‘conducive to the public good’, they can remove a British person’s citizenship.
To be clear, being able to remove citizenship is not a crazy idea. If the UK were to be at war, for example, and a person left our country to fight for a foreign adversary and was offered citizenship by them, it would make sense for the UK to treat that person as a foreigner. There are certain acts, especially relating to conflict against the UK, that could warrant revocation of one’s rights as a citizen. This, however, is a major step. It’s an enormous deal to decide that someone’s crime is so bad that they no longer deserve to be considered by our courts. After all, when a Brit commits a crime, we all bear some of the blame for it. Our system should be tough on the causes of crime internationally too.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, currently making its way through the House of Lords and towards becoming law, would exacerbate this issue massively. It would relax the restrictions on the Home Secretary and remove the requirement to inform someone their citizenship had been revoked, rendering a legal challenge much harder.
Since the Government cannot make a person stateless, it establishes, in practice, a two-tier citizenship status. Those of us, like me, who have no other citizenship cannot be stripped of it. My partner, and the millions of people who have dual nationality are not so lucky. The Government, if they pass this bill, could remove her citizenship and she may never even know.
There is obviously a racial element to this policy. Whilst many British dual nationals live in the oft-forgotten province of Northern Ireland, there are also over 6 million dual nationals living in England and Wales. These people, according to ONS data, are predominantly non-white, with many British nationals descending from the Indian sub-continent. It’s telling that Shamima Begum had her citizenship removed – casting aside our moral responsibility for her to the rest of the world – but the terrorists of the IRA did not. This bill would enshrine a two-tier citizenship system to the detriment of non-white Brits. It is an outrage.
The Bill is approaching its third reading in the House of Lords. Whilst the Lords will undoubtedly try to stymie the worst elements of it, the Government appears determined to push it through.
We therefore have two options available to mitigate the Bill’s damage: protest the Bill’s passage and, crucially, any uses of the Bill. British citizens should not have their rights taken away from them, and if the Home Secretary attempts to do so unjustly, she must face prolonged and persistent protest.
Secondly, we must ensure that the next government quickly and quietly removes this Bill. All too often the degradation of civil liberties can become a slippery slope. Whether the next Home Secretary is from the Labour Party or the Conservative Party (it’s a low bar with Ms Patel), they must cast out this law.
We, like most, are a nation of immigrants. The UK has been defined by wave after wave of immigration, with the culture of these isles changing for both the migrants and for those already here. A two-tier citizenship system is unacceptable. Citizenship is not a privilege; it shouldn’t be something the Government can take away at will.
It’s about time that our government ends its dog-whistle politics. This sort of behaviour doesn’t show the UK in a good light. It makes us appear inward-looking, xenophobic, and, frankly, un-British.
Image - Unsplash (Caspar Rae)