(This article was last updated 8.12.2021)
You may have seen the story of Shamima Begum, who had her British citizenship revoked while in a camp in northern Syria, or the high-profile British aid worker, Tauqir Sharif, who was stripped of his citizenship without the Government presenting any challengeable evidence in a public court hearing to back up their allegations.
Many people were left asking what are citizenship deprivations, and what impact does a deprivation have on people? We tried to answer some of the most common questions here:
1- What is Citizenship Deprivation?
Citizenship Deprivation is when an individual with British citizenship status – whether through birth, naturalisation, or being a citizen of a British overseas territory or otherwise – has that citizenship removed by the British government.
It is not the same as deportation, though citizenship deprivation can lead to deportation, and in some cases, when the deprivation takes place while the person is overseas, the two in practice happen simultaneously.
2- Who can remove your citizenship?
Citizenship can be removed through an order made by the Secretary of State – in other words a Cabinet minister in charge of a government department. In practice this is most often the Home Secretary.
3- What laws allow for the deprivation of citizenship?
Modern powers that allow for citizenship deprivation can be traced back to the British Nationality Act 1981.
These have been supplemented by a number of post-2000 laws, including the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 and the Immigration Act 2014.
The 1981 Act outlined the boundaries of British Citizenship, and Section 40 of the Act included conditions under which the Secretary of State could deprive citizenship to non-birth citizens – i.e. those who had British citizenship due to naturalisation or registration.
The subsequent laws lowered the threshold to allow for citizenship deprivation whilst expanding the reach of citizenship stripping powers to include British citizens who had been born in Britain.
The Immigration Act 2014 was arguably the most significant change.
This Act provided a loophole for the government whereby a person could be deprived of citizenship, as long as there were “reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, to become a national of such a country or territory.”
Though rendering someone stateless is not lawful, this loopole has effectively enabled the deprivation of those without any other existing citizenship.
4- Who can have their citizenship removed?
Currently, there are only two situations in which an individual can be deprived of his or her citizenship: (i) if a person has gained citizenship through fraud or false representation; or (ii) when “the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good”.
The power cannot be exercised against individuals who are automatically British at birth where to do so would render the individual stateless.
In practice however, the deprivation power is used against such individuals on the basis that they have inherited citizenship of another country – through ancestry for example – even if they have never visited or lived in those countries.
Although they may technically be citizens of that other country, they are for all intents and purposes de facto stateless.
The only exception to the above is where someone
(i) has naturalised as British
(ii) is assessed as having conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom; and
(iii) the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for believing” that the individual can become a citizen of another country.
In those circumstances, the Secretary of State has been given the power by parliament to act contrary to international law and leave that individual stateless.
5- How is it removed in practice?
To make a citizenship deprivation order, the Secretary of State sends a written letter saying:
- they have decided to make the order
- why they have made the order
- that the individual has the right of appeal
It is only necessary that the written order be sent to the individual’s last known address – not that the individual concerned actually receives it.
This is subject to change with the Nationality and Borders Bill (see below).
6- What are the consequences of having your citizenship removed?
The consequences are far-reaching, and CAGE has recorded many testimonies to this effect.
They range from people having to relocate to countries where they have seldom (sometimes never) been, to individuals who have actually had to return to war-torn areas or areas where governments are despotic and have absolutely no regard for human rights.
The result of these cases are serious; ‘War on Terror’ rhetoric, and the stigma of being deported for ‘counter-terrorism’ means people not only struggle to get jobs, but they are the immediate viewed with suspicion after having been left in effective exile. In some cases, they have been targets of raids, detention-without-trial and even drone assassinations.
All of this is the consequence of a process that begins in the UK.
7- Can I challenge Citizenship Deprivations?
It is very difficult to challenge these decisions, for various reasons. Since the majority of deprivations occur when a person is abroad, they struggle to get legal representation and legal aid.
For those who do get legal aid and are able to instruct lawyers in the UK, practically it is extremely difficult to communicate with lawyers and build their legal case.
Aside from the due process violations within the process itself (more on that in a moment), the act of doing so while the person cannot adequately respond due to being abroad, is abusive since it effectively results in that person being stranded.
In most cases, the use of secret evidence as part of the SIAC (Special Immigration Appeals Commission) courts has been a particularly disturbing feature of the citizen deprivation process.
This is when evidence is used against someone and neither that person, nor his/her lawyer are ever allowed to even see this evidence, and so they simply cannot challenge the allegations upon which a citizen deprivation case is based.
This concept collapses all principles of due process.
8- Can I select the legal team that will defend me?
Yes and No.
You can choose your own legal team however, in cases where there is ‘secret evidence’ – which is invoked on the grounds of ‘national security’ – a defendant will have to choose from a pre-approved list of ‘special advocates’.
This person is a security-vetted Barrister with whom the deprived citizen has minimal contact. The ‘special advocate’ is supposed to argue on their behalf during the secret hearings in the Special Immigrations Appeal Commission (SIAC) courts.
This ‘special advocate’ will not be able to communicate with the person nor their lawyers after they have heard the evidence against them in closed court.
This means that they cannot put the evidence to the individual, and the individual has no idea what is being said about them behind closed doors.
9- How many people have had it removed?
The Government has not published complete figures, however from the years of 2006 to 2015, 81 people were stripped of their British citizenship. Since then it was reported in The Times that over 150 had their citizenships removed by 2017, as the conflict in Syria escalated. In 2018 alone, 21 people had their citizenship removed.
We’ve documented, and assisted on many of these cases. We have seen the wide spectrum of people it impacts – from aid workers to ordinary citizens. This is the reality – and our evidence is contrary to the government’s narrative that citizen deprivations only have to do with ‘terrorists’.
10- Does it only happen to terror offenders?
The threshold for triggering citizenship deprivation is either technicalities and/or that “the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good”.
This is explained further in Section 40(4A) of the British Nationality Act 1981, which outlines that this person “has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, any of the Islands, or any British overseas territory”.
There is no requirement for the individual to be convicted of any offence, not least a terror offence.
In practice, some individuals have their citizenship deprived for ‘serious crimes’ unrelated to terrorism, whilst others have theirs deprived while they are still abroad.
When this happens in the case of ‘terror’ issues, the individual never has their case heard in an open court, so he/she never knows on what evidence the allegations against them are actually based.
11- Is it a racist policy?
Yes, because it overwhelmingly targets people who have ancestors or parents that are from a different ethnicity.
Citizenship deprivations represent the convergence of far-right populist sentiments that have heralded ‘hostile environment’ policies, which are a product of the agendas of those who seek “to make conditions harder for Muslims across the board”.
It is a policy which seeks to subdue Muslims and children of migrants to the UK: the end result is that we are forever guests who must remain grateful and docile should we wish to remain in the country.
12 – What are the changes being proposed in the new Nationality and Borders Bill?
Section 9 of the Nationality and Borders Bill is proposing to amend the procedure for making a citizenship deprivation. This is in response to a 2021 High Court ruling that overturned the citizenship deprivation of a British woman, known as ‘D4’, because the government failed to issue a written notice to her as per existing law.
Section 9 introduces conditions whereby the Home Secretary would be exempted from issuing written notice to an individual having their citizenship deprived in future.
These exemptions include that:
(a) the Secretary of State does not have the information needed to
be able to give notice under that subsection,
(b) it would for any other reason not be reasonably practicable to
give notice under that subsection, or
(c) notice under that subsection should not be given—
(i) in the interests of national security,
(ii) in the interests of the relationship between the United
Kingdom and another country, or
(iii) otherwise in the public interest.
Contrary to speculation in media coverage, the amendment does not alter the grounds on which a deprivation order can be made, but rather the procedure of a deprivation.
As we stated in #5 above, in many cases under existing law the individual concerned never actually receives the written notice anyway.
This amendment is certainly an attempt to reduce accountability in the deprivation process and to enable further abuses of executive power. But we do not believe that calls for simple ‘technical’ mechanisms, or greater oversight over the process, are in themselves sufficient solutions.
CAGE’s position is to oppose the amendment, as part of our overall opposition to the practice of citizenship deprivation.
13 – Have people deprived of their citizenship ever won it back?
Yes, there have been a number of cases where people have appealed their citizenship deprivation and won, against all odds.
Changes such as those mentioned above are designed to limit the possibility of future defeats for the government.
Image courtesy of Flickr/chrisfleming
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)