A new clause that has been quietly added to the Nationality and Borders Bill has been heavily criticised for paving the way for the Home Office to remove British citizenship without notice – and even act retrospectively.
Clause 9 of the bill, “notice of decision to deprive a person of citizenship”, was updated earlier this month to give the green light to the government to remove the need to give notice if this is not “reasonably practicable”.
Other reasons why the Home Office may do so are related to national security, diplomatic relations and public interest.
Not first time British citizenship rules are unfairly tightened under Tories
The move comes after, earlier this year, Shamima Begum, who left the UK aged 15 to join the Islamic State in Syria, was refused permission to return to the UK and fight a decision to strip her of British citizenship – news which Priti Patel welcomed as “reaffirming” her authority to make “vital national security decisions”.
But scrapping the need to give notice is also making EU citizens in the UK anxious, many more of whom have been spending thousands of pounds on citizenship applications to feel more secure about their lives in Britain after post-Brexit decisions made by the government.
Whilst the new citizenship clause would allow the Home Office to apply law retrospectively to people stripped of citizenship without notice before the clause became law, raising questions about the ability to appeal, this is not the first time rules related to citizenship are tightened in an unfair way under Boris Johnson’s government.
In May this year, campaigners warned EU nationals were fearful their citizenship applications would be rejected because they lacked private health insurance in the past.
The law in question was brought back in May last year, but can see applicants being refused if they lacked the private plan at any point over the last decade.
Campaigners said EU citizens were never informed of the need for comprehensive sickness insurance (CSI) by British officials, and believe they are being punished unnecessarily. The UK has one of the costliest citizenship application processes in Europe – around £1,300 for the application alone, excluding additional tests and appointments required, and the cost of lawyers where needed.
The controversy prompted In Limbo – an organisation fighting for the rights of EU citizens in post-Brexit Britain – to issue an urgent call for assistance at the time, imploring Brits: “We need your support, we need you to raise awareness that things are not fine.”
Figures released in August revealed 37 per cent of all British citizenship applications submitted in the year ending June 2021 were from EU nationals, compared with 12 per cent in 2016, when the EU referendum was held.
Reacting to the news, EU citizens campaigner Lara Parizotto said: “It’s the anti-refugee bill but also the anti-British bill now.
“The government’s hostile environment has for years been narrowing the notion of who can belong to British society and who can be British. Migrants and ethnic minorities are being actively excluded.”
Campaign group Best for Britain labelled the new clause as “utterly draconian”, while writer Frances Meta Coppola said it targets “specifically dual nationals, most of whom are from ethnic minority backgrounds.” “This amendment is explicitly racist,” Coppola added.
Regard for the rule of law?
Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve, told The Guardian: “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.
“This once again shows how little regard this government has for the rule of law.”
The Home Office said: “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.”