How can you lose your British citizenship?

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has triggered controversy by revoking the British citizenship of a jihadi bride in order to prevent her from returning to the UK. 

Javid used his powers under the British Nationality Act 1981 to strip Shamima Begum of her rights, on the grounds that she was eligible to take up Bangladeshi citizenship through her mother. But the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry has said that the country would not welcome 19-year-old Begum – who gave birth to a son in a Syrian refugee camp last week.

“A fair few people have suggested that this is about Javid’s own ambitions in the Conservative Party, as this move will likely appeal to the Tory grass roots,” says The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman.

Nevertheless, Harman argues, the hope within the Government may be that “by showing that, as Security Minister Ben Wallace said last week, ‘actions have consequences’, they can deter others from believing that they can join a proscribed organisation and come back home if it doesn’t work out”.

How can you lose your British Citizenship?

Revoking citizenship is allowed in instances where doing so would be “conducive to the public good”. However, this power “can only be used where the person concerned has dual nationality, as leaving an individual stateless is a breach of international law”, says the London Evening Standard.

These powers were extended in 2014 by then-home secretary Theresa May.

In an article for The Daily Telegraph at the time, May wrote: “Following the recent Immigration Act, I can, in certain circumstances, remove citizenship from naturalised Britons who are fighting overseas and exclude them too. And while it is illegal for any country to make its citizens stateless, any British national who returns from Syria and Iraq faces prosecution here for participating in terrorist activities abroad.”

If Javid’s order proves successful, Begum “will join the ranks of around 120 suspected jihadists and criminals since 2016 who have been stripped of their British nationality and banned from returning to the UK”, reports The Guardian.

Why can’t a person be stateless?

As individuals have no choice but to live under the authority and power of a state, to render someone stateless would mean they “continued to be subjected to state power but without the basic protections against it offered by citizenship, including security of residence (protection from deportation), political rights, and a host of entitlements and privileges (including access to education and employment) often reserved solely for citizens”, writes Dr Matthew Gibney, associate professor of politics and forced migration at the University of Oxford, in an article on The Conversation.

Javid told ITV’s Robert Peston that for this reason, he would never make any decision that made any individual stateless.

What will happen to Begum?

The matter is complicated by the fact that, according to Bangladesh, Begum does not have any right to Bangladeshi citizenship.

The country’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Shahriar Alam, posted a press release on Twitter that said: “Bangladesh asserts that Ms Shamima Begum is not a Bangladeshi citizen. She is a British citizen by birth and has never applied for dual nationality with Bangladesh.

“It may also be mentioned that she never visited Bangladesh in the past despite her parental lineage. So, there is no question of her being allowed to enter into Bangladesh.”

Meanwhile, Begum told the BBC: “I wasn’t born in Bangladesh, I’ve never seen Bangladesh and I don’t even speak Bengali properly, so how can they claim I have Bangladeshi citizenship.

“I have one citizenship… and if you take that away from me, I don’t have anything. I don’t think they are allowed to do that.” 

Begum now has the right to challenge Javid’s decision either by tribunal or judicial review, but would have to prove the home secretary had acted disproportionately.


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