• Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

Citizenship should be permanent

ByBilly Manners

Mar 10, 2023
Image of an old style British passport on Euros

Although I was certainly inspired by the ruling that Shamima Begum should not be given her citizenship back, this isn’t an article about her, or her guilt. I don’t think her morality or actions are pertinent here. Nor am I writing about how the government has left her kinda, sorta, probably stateless, in direct contravention of the British Nationality Act 1981, as well as international law. My problem with the Begum case is the very act of depriving someone of their citizenship.

It comes down to what citizenship is: a recognition by the government and the individual that they are British. It means that they accept the duties that entails and that the government grants them the privileges that affords. It shows, for a naturalised citizen, that they have put in the huge amount of effort required for citizenship, and dedicated years of their life to that goal. It ought to mean that they are as much a Brit as someone like me, whose ancestors have been British for centuries.

But it doesn’t mean that, not when a naturalised citizen (and in fact any dual national) can have their citizenship revoked. This creates a clear two-tier system for citizenship: those whose citizenship can be removed and those whose citizenship can’t. It certainly hasn’t passed me by that the vast majority of those in the second category are from ethnic minorities. This has actionable effects as well, will naturalised citizens feel secure in their nationality knowing it can be stripped away?

It doesn’t help that the removal process is almost entirely unaccountable. Deprivation of citizenship is a decision made by the home secretary, not by the courts, and while there is a right of appeal, sensitive evidence can be withheld even from the appellant.

The problem, always, with advocating for judicial leniency is that the people it will affect are generally unsympathetic. Although the lack of accountability has led to some horrific miscarriages of justice, British citizenship can only be revoked where there is evidence of terrorism, espionage, war crimes, or involvement in serious organised crime, all very serious offences. I don’t want these people in my country, but that, to my mind, is the point of citizenship. Once an immigrant becomes a citizen, they cease to be in the country at the consent of the government and the people, and become one of the people, present in the country by inalienable right. If they have committed these offences, they should be tried and imprisoned like any other citizen (and if they haven’t, then how dare you remove them from their home).

That’s why I don’t care if Shamima Begum is a terrorist or a victim. Whichever she is, she’s a British one, and deserves the right to face whatever consequences she will at home.

UK biometric passport on pile of Euro currency” by Christopher Elison is licensed under CC BY 2.0.