As published by Politics Home:
This week MPs will debate Clause nine of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which would allow the government to strip you of British citizenship – essentially your right to have rights – without even telling you.
The government seeks to justify this huge power grab on national security grounds. As a former shadow home secretary, I know that our intelligence agencies need powers to need to deal with terrorism and the many other threats we face. But those powers must be proportionate and balanced against the rights of the individual against an overbearing state.
Not only are these excessively broad new powers not necessary to tackle terrorism, but they are counter-productive.
The US government has warned that this approach risks fuelling the global threats posed by ISIS, with former US State Department officials spelling out that it “makes all of us less safe”, concerns echoed by UK security experts.
Former Director of Public Prosecutions Lord MacDonald has said that this approach involves “a denial of sovereignty and responsibility”. British justice – “generally reckoned to be as robust as any in the world” – is more than capable of prosecuting terrorist offences. I couldn’t agree more.
So why is the government doing this? It already has and uses the power to deprive people of their citizenship.
It claims it’s not always practicable to notify people that their citizenship is being taken away. But, given they’re only required to post a letter to that person’s last known address – which is surely the most simple and basic of administrative tasks – this argument doesn’t convince.
The only purpose this new amendment seems to serve is to prevent British courts from checking the Home Secretary is complying with the law by effectively removing your right of appeal: if you don’t know your citizenship has been taken away, how could you possibly challenge it?
The Judicial Review Bill introduces “ouster clauses” that seek to prevent courts from checking the government is acting in line with the law set down by Parliament in certain areas. Clause nine of the Nationality and Borders Bill does the same.
The government will be freer than ever to deprive British citizens of their rights unlawfully, and no one might ever find out. That is a huge overturning of the contract between the individual and the state.
It’s not as if our courts are eager to strike down government decisions concerning defence and security. For example, the Supreme Court just found that Shamima Begum – the young woman who travelled to Syria as a child and is now detained there – can’t return to the UK to appeal her citizenship deprivation, despite finding that she cannot receive a fair trial while defending her case from Syria. That doesn’t sound like a bunch of left-liberal lawyers hindering efforts to protect national security.
And what if the government strips someone of citizenship, in secret, while they are outside the UK, but does so in error? If Clause nine passes, the first they would know about it is when they seek the protection of a British consulate, and the door is shut in their face. Consequently, the error might never be rectified.
This isn’t only about how the current Home Secretary may choose to wield this power. We don’t know who could hold that office in future, how widely they might decide to use it and whom they might choose as its target.
Not only does Clause nine represent a deeply troubling level of government overreach at the expense of individual liberty, but it also risks undermining the very values that define us as Brits and make British citizenship so valuable – our sense of British justice, fair play, and the rule of law.
There is no place for blanket secrecy in our justice system; justice must be done, and importantly, it must be seen to be done. Otherwise, it is not justice at all.