How can any of us feel safe with a Home Office that lies so relentlessly?

Meme by Sadie Parker

Unnerved by all the criticism of the Nationality and Borders Bill, the Home Office has come out swinging, lambasting alleged “inaccuracies” in some of the commentary. The only problem is, their defence is riddled with what could at best be described as misleading statements, and at worst as outright lies. Sadie Parker calls them out.

The “statement” came in a series of three tweets:

There are three problems with this first tweet. First, the claim that deprivation of citizenship has been possible for over a century is misleading. The Home Office is referring to the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914, as it mentions in its Nationality and Borders Bill “Fact” Sheet. Back then, we weren’t citizens — we were subjects. What’s more, there were different classes of subjects, based on race and gender. For example, the act states “the wife on an alien shall be deemed an alien,” meaning a British woman lost her British nationality if she married a foreigner, but this was not the case for a British man. Also, a British mother could not transmit her nationality to a child born abroad; only a British father could do that. Is Priti Patel seriously holding up this ancient injustice as a justification for her new Bill?

Furthermore, the right of deprivation of nationality currently in use dates back to Margaret Thatcher’s British Nationality Act 1981, but since 2002 has been gradually strengthened through successive laws, without the public being made aware of the implications and the dramatic erosion of civil rights.

Meme by Sadie Parker

The second problem is the claim that there is a right of appeal. If you do not know that Priti Patel has deprived you of your citizenship, because you have not been notified, how can you appeal? Furthermore, appeals often take place at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) where individuals may not see the evidence against them. That doesn’t sound like the generous appeal, based on “natural justice”, that Tory MPs were demanding on behalf of their mate Owen Paterson (who had already had an appeal via the Select Committee’s investigation of the Standards Commissioner’s decision). Yet another example of ‘one rule for us, another for the plebs’.

Finally, the claim the power is used against terrorists to make us safe. Note how carefully the Home Office has chosen its words. The word ‘only’ is not included — i.e. that the power will only be used against terrorists. Even when it is used against someone on the grounds of terrorism, it is the Home Secretary who establishes what constitutes a terrorist, and the present incumbent would like to include anyone who takes action to save the planet from climate change in that definition. This power remains disturbingly broad and arbitrary.

In the second tweet, the Home Office implies the duty to notify the person about to be stripped of their nationality is only on the three grounds mentioned in that tweet. In fact, as seen in the “Erosion of Nationality Rights” chart above, the grounds are much wider. They include being in the interest of the UK’s relationship with a third country not to inform the person or in the catch-all, subjectively defined “public interest”. Again, these conditions are vague, broad and easily abused by a nationalist-populist Home Secretary hostile to dissent, scrutiny, and even the softest criticism.

The third tweet partially corrects the defect of the first tweet, by stating ‘including terrorists’, but then implies the only other people from whom citizenship can be removed are those who obtain it fraudulently, which is patently not true. What is vexatious in this tweet is the underlying suggestion that this Bill is needed to enable the government to fulfil its duty to keep the public safe. How can anyone with a potential claim to a second nationality ever feel safe, knowing the Home Secretary can strip them of their nationality on a whim without notification and with only a limited right of appeal that is difficult to exercise in practical terms?

The government vowed to learn lessons in the wake of the Windrush scandal, which saw people deported on Theresa May’s “deport first, hear appeals later” principle and unable to prove their right to live in the UK, because the government had destroyed the relevant documents.

From the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, March 2020

Recommendation 6 – The Home Office should: a) devise, implement and review a comprehensive learning and development programme which makes sure all its existing and new staff learn about the history of the UK and its relationship with the rest of the world, including Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration and the history of black Britons. This programme should be developed in partnership with academic experts in historical migration and should include the findings of this review, and its ethnographic research, to understand the impact of the department’s decisions; b) publish an annual return confirming how many staff, managers and senior civil servants have completed the programme.

Instead of learning from the Windrush scandal, this Bill increases the risk of repeated failures. Moreover, it is retroactive, and can be used to justify decisions made in the past on “unsafe” legal grounds, so could even be used to “legalise” those Windrush deportations. Yet another broken pledge.

Priti Patel is telling a partial truth when she says all clause 9 of her Nationality and Borders Bill does is remove the obligation to notify the person who is to be stripped of their citizenship. However, it is the Jenga block that could and should bring the whole sorry edifice of ‘bad’ nationality law down. Government’s pronouncement that citizenship is a privilege not a right in conjunction with clause 9 has awoken the sleeping dragon of public ire by alerting us to just how bad our nationality laws are.

It is time to take back control of our civil rights from this increasingly authoritarian government. Our two Green Party peers, Baronesses Jenny Jones and Natalie Bennett have launched a robust campaign against the Nationality and Borders Bill, as well as against the equally regressive and oppressive Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. They need help getting Labour Lords onside, so please write to Keir Starmer and your Labour MP (or ,if you do not have one, write to a member of the Shadow Cabinet and tell them you are writing to them in that capacity rather than as your constituency MP).

We can arrest this erosion of our rights, if we act NOW.