The Nationality and Borders Bill: How the UK is stripping citizenship
Writer: Harry Zhao
Editor: Adelyne Koe
Graphic Designer & Illustrator: Pat Sevikul
The recent Nationality and Borders Bill is a government bill proposed in November 2021 by the conservative UK Home Secretary Priti Patel. The bill would grant the UK Home Secretary the power to revoke British citizenship from individuals without giving notice whether or not it is deemed "reasonably practical" to do so. Furthermore, the bill would also target asylum seekers arriving at Britain, as well as other "illegal immigrants". Having already been passed through the House of Commons, the bill is highly controversial and raises concerns over the rights of asylum seekers, immigrants, and other dual-nationality British citizens.
The bill is part of a larger trend in UK politics, in which the British government has been granted increasing power to strip larger groups of people of their British citizenship in the name of anti-terrorism and public interest. In 2002, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act enabled the government to deprive dual nationals of their British citizenship in extreme cases for “the public good". Following the 2005 London bombing, an increasing number of British nationals have been detained, tortured, or deprived of their citizenship. For example, while Theresa May held the office of Home Secretary, the number of British nationals losing their citizenship per year rose from 4 people in 2014 to 107 people in 2017. Notably, May had used her power to revoke citizenship from twenty individuals who were allegedly fighting in Syria. She also extended the policy to include foreign-born British citizens who may not necessarily be dual nationals, but are considered to be eligible for another citizenship. All these events show that the UK is trading the rights of certain people to British citizenship for national security. Currently, an estimated six million residents in Britain and Wales could potentially have their citizenship stripped.
So what does the bill entail for British citizens? Although the powers of citizenship deprivation have existed for a long time in Britain, the Nationality and Borders Bill would greatly increase those powers and could negatively affect disadvantaged groups, especially ethnic minorities and asylum seekers.
As per Clause 9 of the bill, the Home Office would not be obliged to notify the individual that their citizenship has been stripped if it could reveal sensitive information or if it is not practical to do so. This clause implies that an individual could be unaware of their loss of citizenship indefinitely, thus making it much more difficult for them to issue an appeal before the deadline. Furthermore, the bill would effectively widen the divide between two tiers of British nationals: a group of privileged citizens who do not have to worry about their citizenship being denied for any civil misconduct, and another group of citizens who would live in the constant worry that their citizenship could be stripped unknowingly, alongside the access to the rights that come with being a British citizen.
The bill causes significant alarm within minority groups living in Britain, who are generally more likely to be affected by citizenship deprivation compared to white citizens. According to estimation, two out of every five individuals of non-white ethnicity is subject to losing their British citizenship, as opposed to just one in every twenty white citizens. For these people, the bill would mean that their citizenship could easily be stripped by the Home Secretary without their knowledge, consequently causing uncertainty and insecurity within their communities. This also sends out a clear message to minority groups and immigrants that they are considered to be "second-class" citizens, with their British nationality left at a precarious and unpredictable position.
In 2019, the British government decided to revoke the citizenship of Shamima Begum, a woman of Bangladeshi heritage who was born in the UK and joined the Islamic State (ISIS) as a teenager, which was seen to threaten British national interests. The Home Office denied her the right to return to Britain, and argued that she would not be rendered stateless because of her Bangladeshi heritage, despite her not holding a Bangladeshi passport or even having travelled to the country. This case set out a precedent that led to rising anxieties among British ethnic minorities, especially British-Bangladeshi and -Muslims. The case of Shamima Begum exposed the delicate positions that ethnic and racial minorities occupy in Britain, where their British nationality is conditional and could easily be stripped away once the individual is perceived as a threat - and this is made all the more concerning under the Nationality and Borders Bill.
The Nationality and Borders Bill also impacts incoming refugees and asylum seekers who are arriving and applying for refuge in the UK. It seeks to deter illegal smugglers and undocumented migrants from making the voyage to the UK via the English Channel. However, international human rights' groups such as the Joint Committee on Human Rights have condemned the plan as ineffective and unworkable.
The bill proposes to amend the allegedly costly and slow British asylum system, to address the pull factors that draw illegal immigrants to the UK, and to deal with the growing number of illegal migrants in the UK. To achieve this, the bill controversially plans to criminalise the attempts of people entering the UK without visas, to grant Border Control staff immunity from being held accountable if people die during British pushback operations where boats are pushed back across the English Channel, and to discourage immigration by forbidding asylum claims to be processed overseas and thus prolonging the waiting time for claims to be evaluated. As such, the bill would severely tighten the restrictions around asylum claims, all while making it much harder for asylum seekers to get to safety.
Several immigration lawyers have concluded that the bill would breach both international and domestic laws, which is a claim widely supported by human rights' groups that argue that the bill would be counterproductive and seriously endanger the rights of legitimate refugees in need. They argue that pushback operations put more human lives at risk, especially since 27 people have already died in a single crossing in November 2021. Furthermore, pushback operations would not serve to stop criminal trafficking incidents, instead only making it more likely for desperate people to lose their lives in the process, as the government fails to provide safer alternative routes. In addition, they also criticise the bill for criminalising refugee rescuers in the English Channel, making it harder to prevent the loss of lives during dangerous trips in the region.
The most powerful way to get the policymakers debating the bill to listen to the concerns of disenfranchised groups of people is through petitions. If you are a British citizen, you can sign the petition at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/601583 to push the Parliament to remove Clause 9 from the bill. You could also sign other petitions to voice your opinion, and to impel the British government to redraft, reconsider, or turn down the bill. You can also help by spreading awareness about the problems that the bill would cause for disempowered communities, bringing more attention to the issue and promoting change.