Opinion

Citizenship is not a ‘privilege’ - the Borders Bill clause is a threat to ethnic minority Britons

Allowing the Home Office to revoke British citizenship without notice would be indefensible, writes Alba Kapoor, senior policy officer at The Runnymede Trust.

borders bill windrush

Home Secretary Priti Patel. Image: BBC

Earlier this month, a new clause was snuck into the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which would grant the power to deprive a person’s citizenship without them even being told.

In defence of this clause, the Home Office chillingly responded that “citizenship is a privilege, not a right”, reinforcing the idea that ministerial discretion can decide whether or not you belong in the UK.

Over the past five years, the government has significantly increased its use of citizenship deprivation power under the British Nationality Act of 1981.

Between 2006 and 2014, powers to strip citizenship were used 27 times, but in 2017 alone its use dramatically rose to 104 times. This new clause makes citizenship deprivation easier for the government, as it effectively denies the right of appeal for someone who has lost their citizenship by shrouding it in secrecy. 

This is an indefensible proposal which adds further weight to already discriminatory citizenship stripping laws.

To comply with international rights obligations against rendering citizens stateless, the government can only deprive citizenship from those with dual nationality or those who have been naturalised, if they believe that they could become a citizen somewhere else.

Even if they have never left Britain before, those with a dual nationality (or the possibility of one) face the prospect of losing their citizenship. We know that this disproportionately impacts Black and ethnic minority groups and the children of immigrants, who have ties to nations across the globe. 

The enhanced deprivation powers laid out in the Nationality and Borders Bill send a signal from the government to its citizens: if you have links to other countries then don’t take your citizenship for granted.

For dual and naturalised citizens, it makes it clear that they are not safe in thinking that they belong. In fact, the new proposals mean government ministers can remove Britons from their home without any prior warning. 

The Windrush Scandal taught us that Black and ethnic minority people are the most threatened when powers around access to citizenship are strengthened. The systematic denial of the rights of Black Britons was made possible because the Windrush generation were not recognised as British citizens.

This new clause entrenches this risk for dual and naturalised citizens, who are being told that their ‘Britishness’ hinges on their good behaviour. Despite claims otherwise, key lessons from the Windrush Scandal continue to be ignored as the government thirsts for more draconian powers over who is and is not a UK citizen. 

This clause comes alongside a raft of other proposals in the new Borders Bill which have been dubbed  “the biggest legal assault on international refugee law ever seen in the UK” by leading immigration lawyers.

It is in no way alone in flouting basic principles of human rights and fairness, and it must be challenged alongside other shameful measures that set out who is welcome in Britain and who is not.  

The government has made it clear that it will not hold back in taking away citizenship from those that it deems to be a big enough security risk, exiling them to be dealt with elsewhere.

These are dangerous policies that allow the UK to renege on its responsibilities and have been denounced by human rights organisations across the country.

If passed, this legislation will reinforce these policies that have led to two tiers of citizenship: distinguishing between those who are deemed to be permanent citizens irrespective of their actions and those who could have their citizenship deprived from them by the government.

We should see this as a threat to everyone, but particularly to Black and ethnic minority citizens in this country who already have to fight to belong.

Alba Kapoor is senior policy officer at The Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank.

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