Your Citizenship Has Been Revoked.

Shamima Begum has been stripped of her UK citizenship

UK citizens are increasingly being made stateless in the ‘interests of national security’. Rahul Verma reports on how British justice is being torn up in defence of ‘British values’ — originally published in British Values, 2016.

In recent years the threat of homegrown terrorism has seen our government depriving Britons of British citizenship.

Alarmingly being stripped of British citizenship on grounds of national security seems to have only happened to Britons with ancestry in other countries — in other words immigrants — and their children, born, raised and living in this green and pleasant land, with a burgundy-and-gold UK passport to prove it.

“How can a person born and bred in Britain, or a naturalised British citizen (born abroad and granted British citizenship like Mo Farah), have their citizenship revoked and passport withdrawn?”

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) has been documenting the counter-extremism measure and has found that since 2006, 27 individuals have been deprived of British citizenship for links to terrorism, of which 24 took place under the coalition government (2010 to 2015).

How can a person born and bred in Britain, or a naturalised British citizen (born abroad and granted British citizenship like Mo Farah), have their citizenship revoked and passport withdrawn?

‘Under Section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981 the Home Secretary can deprive an individual of British citizenship if it’s conducive to the public good, providing it does not register the individual stateless,’ explains Bimal Kotecha, a lawyer with LEXLAW Solicitors & Advocates

‘It can be argued the Home Secretary can deprive an individual of British citizenship and leave them stateless, when the Home Secretary believes the person can lay claim to alternative citizenship — where you are born does not matter’, continues Bimal over coffee by the Royal Courts of Justice.

I can’t get my head round this so present a hypothetical scenario: I’m a London-born child of Punjabi parents who journeyed from Delhi to London in the late-1960s — I’ve had a British passport since going to India aged 2 and ‘British’ is the only nationality box I’ve ticked on a form.

In theory would my Indian ancestry enable the Home Secretary to deprive me of British citizenship if it was conducive to the public good? ‘Even if you’re born in the UK, if there’s provision for you to apply for citizenship elsewhere — even if it’s declined — then yes that could happen,’ explains Bimal.

IMPLICATIONS

Citizenship is a basic human right and is enshrined as such in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights so what are the consequences of being denuded of British citizenship, and in some instances being left stateless?

‘Along with residency citizenship gives you a raft of rights and protections in international law. For example Mohamed Sakr and Bilal al-Berjawi lost their British citizenship when they were out of the country, and soon after were killed by an American drone strike in Somalia in 2012,’ explains Victoria Parsons, a journalist working closely on TBIJ’s Citizenship Revoked investigation.

‘Mahdi Hashi was in Somalia in 2012 when deprived of British citizenship and was picked up in Djibouti where he alleges US intelligence unlawfully interrogated him and took him to America. His family didn’t know where he was for a month until he appeared in court in New York on terrorism charges — people deprived of citizenship are much more vulnerable to the wider War on Terror,’ continues Victoria.

If Hashi remained a British citizen the US would be required to initiate lengthy extradition proceedings — which are open to legal challenges — and it would have been entirely illegal for US security services to interrogate him in Djibouti.

“People who have been deprived of British citizenship appear to have been voided by our government and rendered invisible by this clandestine, draconian practice.”

It’s difficult to comprehend what it’s like to discover the door to your home has been closed forever, and be abandoned in a faraway place for links to terrorism without the protection of your homeland, nor have documents enabling safe passage between states.

In some respects it seems people who have been deprived of British citizenship appear to have been voided by our government and rendered invisible by this clandestine, draconian practice.

However no one, UK state or otherwise, can deny these individuals are people; fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, husbands and partners (to date deprivation orders on national security grounds have been applied to men).

‘It’s interesting you talk about anonymity — individuals are often out of the country when deprived of citizenship and appeal hearings have reporting restrictions, which means you can’t share details like names,’ explains Victoria.

‘There is a man known as ZZ who has been fighting a deprivation order for nine years and throughout his case at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission his six kids were sat in the public gallery — seeing how families are being kept apart really brings home the impact of it,’ says Victoria.

CODED LANGUAGE

Citizenship forms the basis of the contract between us as individuals, and collectively — it is the foundation upon which democracy is built. How did we get to a situation where the state has effectively torn up this contract with certain individuals, and therefore all of us as collective British citizens?

2001’s Race Riots — or uprisings — in Bradford, Leeds and Oldham involving young Muslim men gave rise to language around Muslims living separate lives and failing to integrate.

9/11 and 7/7 added fuel to the fire and in 2006 Tony Blair delivered a speech at №10 declaring Muslims had a ‘duty to integrate’ and outlined British values as ‘belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage.’

The implicit message is clear: Muslim values stand against British values, and violent disorder and terrorism is located squarely in the Muslim community. Simultaneously Citizenship Classes were introduced to schools in 2002 and the Life in the UK test (or Citizenship test) became a requirement for persons granted Indefinite Leave to Remain and naturalised as a British citizen, in tandem with a ceremony swearing allegiance to the Queen (yes, really).

“Marking ethnic minority behaviours as alien and problematic to Britain is nothing new — for example Operation Trident establishes gun crime as synonymous with the ‘black community’.”

For Blair’s 2006 speech you could be listening to David Cameron’s Munich speech of February 2011, in which he blamed multiculturalism for Muslim communities separate lives and failure to embrace British values, or Cameron’s extremism speech in July 2015.

Marking ethnic minority behaviours as alien and problematic to Britain is nothing new — for example Operation Trident establishes gun crime as synonymous with the ‘black community’. Similarly the Met Police’s risk assessment paperwork (aka Form 696) for gig venues and nightclubs comes into play when ‘urban’ music is on offer and again links violent disorder with troublesome ethnic minority communities.

The effect is to maintain the notion of fundamental difference between white and non-white, and in 21st century ‘Britain values’ establishes the ‘them’ and ‘us’. Nowhere is this more palpable than in depriving Britons who qualify as ‘them’ — or with ancestry in other lands — of citizenship.

SECOND CLASS CITIZENS

Vastly different treatment at the hands of the state and the law, depending on your heritage, has led to talk of ‘two tier’ citizenship of Britain.

To the naked eye it seems there’s inviolable citizenship for ‘native’ Brits, and ‘immigrant’ citizenship that can be stripped for involvement with ‘terrorism, espionage, organised crime, war crimes or unacceptable behaviour’.

Could a native Brit have their citizenship revoked? ‘This practice is more likely to impact people of colour rather than an English person with ancestry going back several generations because technically they can’t claim citizenship elsewhere, so it would be very difficult to apply,’ explains Bimal.

Therefore, could this measure be construed as sending the message that people of colour aren’t really British? ‘The fact that the power is there can give that impression because if you’re an individual with ancestry in another country, then it’s something to be fearful of as if you don’t comply with the laws of the country or the UK way of thinking, there is provision to send you back to where you came from,’ outlines Bimal.

“If anyone is disrespecting this country by acting undemocratically and in a totalitarian manner through dispensing with rule of law, and treating its citizens unequally through depriving Britons of citizenship, it’s our elected politicians.”

If ever there was a state policy and practice that embodies immigrants as second-class citizens it’s this. It seems to reflect the state’s lingering ‘empire state of mind’ when it comes to Britain’s former colonial subjects and its children — excluding the white commonwealth of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

And yet its hypocrisy is stunning: for nearly a decade Prime Ministers, home secretaries, ministers, MPs, commentators and our media have cited British values as believing in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country.’ (Tony Blair, Munich 2006).

If anyone is disrespecting this country by acting undemocratically and in a totalitarian manner through dispensing with rule of law, and treating its citizens unequally through depriving Britons of citizenship, it’s our elected politicians.

Leading Barrister and human rights champion Baroness Kennedy, who acted as Mahdi Hashi’s QC in challenging his citizenship deprivation order, has stated. ‘Citizenship is not a privilege; it is a protected legal status. The US, Germany and many other states would not dream of removing citizenship under any circumstances. The answer to conduct we deem criminal is to prosecute it.’

‘Deprivation with all its consequences in the modern world is equivalent to a penal sanction of the most serious kind but imposed without a criminal trial, without conviction, without close and open examination of the evidence and without the opportunity to defend yourself. All of this is contrary to due process — a fundamental human right.’

For more information please see The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Counter Terrorism investigations

You can buy British Values, here

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Writer & Editor interested in arts & culture, grassroots stories, under-represented voices, South Asia, diasporas and the nooks and crannies in between.

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Rahul Verma

Writer & Editor interested in arts & culture, grassroots stories, under-represented voices, South Asia, diasporas and the nooks and crannies in between.