Theresa May has said she wants to extend her powers to strip citizenship from suspected terrorists, even if doing so renders them stateless. Under current law the home secretary may denaturalise anyone with dual nationality whose UK citizenship is deemed by her to be “not conducive to the public good”. But if May has her way, even British-only nationals will lose their citizenship. The consequences will be profound.
In her first 30 months in office, May deprived 16 Britons of their citizenship, almost all of them on grounds of being linked to terrorist activities. One such ex-Briton is Mahdi Hashi, a Somali-born UK citizen who grew up in Camden, north London, and subsequently became involved in the al-Shabaab group. The home ecretary ordered that he be stripped of citizenship while he was in Somalia, cancelling his passport and right to re-enter Britain, and leaving him vulnerable to rendition to the US. Hashi now languishes in jail in New York on terror charges.
The vast majority of these former citizens were outside the UK at the time, giving the lie to their right to appeal to a UK court, and freeing the home secretary from full scrutiny. Few of them have ever been charged in a British court with any criminal offence. The protections that each and every British citizen should have against arbitrary decision-making and against a life without citizenship have been gradually and deliberately stripped away.
During the dark days of the second world war, when Britain was in mortal danger, only four people were stripped of citizenship. Theresa May has denaturalised more than four times that number of in the last three years alone. Now she wants to increase the state’s power further by consigning British-only citizens she deems undesirable to statelessness. We would do well to note the refugee scholar Hannah Arendt’s observation that one can measure the extent to which authoritarianism has infected a government by the number of denaturalisations it orders. This growing erosion of the security of UK citizenship needs to be reversed.
[It’s important to realise that we are discussing suspects. It is likely that there is little or any evidence against them and that action to deny nationality is essentially arbitrarily applied.]