You may by now have seen references to a new proposed law that threatens to strip the citizenship of upwards of six million Britons without notice.
You may also have seen counter-claims asserting that the law – contained in clause 9 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which has its second reading in the House of Lords on Wednesday – is a minor technicality that does not significantly alter the status quo. Home Office minister Kevin Foster even accused MPs protesting the clause in the Commons of “scaremongering”.
Clause 9 removes a provision in the underlying 1981 law on citizenship deprivation which compels government to give notice to a person it wishes to deprive of citizenship, if it is not “reasonably practicable” to do so, or if giving such notice poses a national security threat, is contrary to our diplomatic interests, or is “otherwise in the public interest”.
The government is right in saying the underlying power to take away citizenship is not new. But concerns over clause 9 are legitimate, and calling them scaremongering is deceitful.
While the basic power to take away someone’s citizenship has existed in law for a very long time, the scope of that power has grown massively over the past 40 years.
In the British Nationality Act 1981, it was a power against naturalised citizens, if it wouldn’t make them stateless and if they had committed treason or received a sentence of imprisonment of at least a year. In 2002, that became a power against all citizens, if it wouldn’t make them stateless, and they posed a national security threat. In 2006, that became a power against all citizens, if it wouldn’t make them stateless, and where it was merely ‘conducive to the public good’ to take their citizenship away.