Shamima Begum: will the plan to revoke her citizenship succeed?

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, has ordered the Isis recruit Shamima Begum’s citizenship to be revoked. Here are some of the key questions the move raises:

What was Begum’s status before the order?

Both of her parents are from Bangladesh and her father is believed to be residing there now, but she is British born and is not believed to hold dual citizenship. International law forbids nations from making people stateless by revoking their only citizenship. The barrister David Anderson QC, who previously served as a reviewer of terrorism legislation, told the Press Association: “Those born as British citizens who are not dual nationals cannot be stripped of their citizenship in any circumstances.”

So how can her citizenship be revoked?

If Begum had been a naturalised citizen, or had obtained her passport by fraud, the home secretary may have had the clearcut power to revoke her citizenship, but there is no suggestion of that.

It is understood the home secretary is relying on section 40(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981 to strip Begum of her passport. It says he can “by order deprive a person of a citizenship status if the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good”, and if they have behaved in a way that “is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom”.

The home secretary cannot revoke citizenship “if he is satisfied that the order would make a person stateless”, but can do with “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”. It is understood Javid will use the fact that Begum could apply for a Bangladeshi passport to justify revoking her UK citizenship.

Can Begum appeal the order?

Javid’s letter asks her mother to pass on details of the order to her daughter, who is currently in a Syrian refugee camp without access to a phone. Begum will need to instruct lawyers and their attempts may need applications for legal aid. Any appeal would be heard at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. The SIAC is independent of the government, and allows individuals to appeal against immigration decisions made by the Home Office.

Those who are outside of the UK have 28 days to lodge an appeal from the time they receive their Home Office letter. The family’s lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee, said they were “considering all legal avenues to challenge the decision”.

What have others said about stopping Isis recruits returning?

The head of MI6 said last Friday that Britons like Begum, who have gone to join Isis, could not be stopped from returning to the UK. Javid’s cabinet colleague David Gauke, the justice secretary, said on Sunday: “We can’t make people stateless.” And Bernard Hogan-Howe, Metropolitan police commissioner when Begum fled in 2015, said she and her fellow fugitives should be treated as grooming victims as long as no evidence emerges that they committed offences. However, current Met police commissioner Cressida Dick suggested that judgment may have changed now that four years have elapsed.

Is there any precedent for this?

This is a relatively unique case, although one legal source claimed the government had tried this before and lost. Most cases have featured those who are dual nationals.

By contrast, many other British Isis recruits have been allowed to return. The home secretary may be asked at any appeal to explain why those suspected of fighting have been allowed back into the UK, while Begum – who is not thought to have been a combatant – has been stripped of her citizenship.

What about her newborn son?

The child, who she has named Jarrah, is arguably entitled to be British through his mother’s citizenship, but it is unclear if the home secretary issued the order before his birth at the weekend, and whether that revocation could apply to the child’s rights. Practical considerations might also emerge, including how the child could reach Britain if he has a right to UK citizenship but his mother does not, and who has the right to act for the child if his mother is no longer a British citizen.

Is Begum is a threat to UK security?

Sources suggest there is no direct evidence, but the risk she poses is theoretical given her decision to join Isis, her use in the group’s propaganda, indoctrination in Syria and apparent lack of remorse in the interviews she has given, in which she has said she “has no regrets”.


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