Why so many people are outraged over the controversial Nationality and Borders Bill

Written by Amy Beecham

How Clause 9 of the government’s divisive Nationality and Borders Bill could impact over 6 million UK citizens.

The Home Office’s controversial Nationality and Borders Bill is currently making its way through the House of Lords, having passed the first and second readings.

The bill, which makes provisions about nationality, asylum and immigration, has proven divisive as it will see tighter restrictions on safe and ‘legal’ routes, offshore processing, the introduction of the one-stop process, and the creation of a two-tier system of refugees and asylum seeking people based on the method of arrival into the UK.

Opposition campaigners have termed it an “anti-refugee bill,”with 100 civil society figures condemning the government’s proposed Nationality and Borders Bill as “overtly racist” in an open letter.

One particular point of conflict is Clause 9, which according to analysis from the New Statesman could jeopardise the citizenship of two in five people from an ethnic minority background in the UK.

What is Clause 9 and what does it mean?

Clause 9 – “Notice of decision to deprive a person of citizenship” – of the bill, which was updated earlier this month, exempts the government from having to give notice if it is not “reasonably practicable” to do so, or in the interests of national security, diplomatic relations or otherwise in the public interest.

In simple terms, if the British government wants to remove someone’s citizenship it will no longer need to tell them.

The move follows the high profile “Windrush generation” scandal, where many born British subjects were wrongly deported and the stripping of Shamima Begum’s citizenship after she fled Britain as a schoolgirl to join Islamic State in Syria.

According to the Institute of Race Relations (IRR): “this logic – ship ‘em out, regardless of family ties, or how long they have lived here, if they cause trouble, or can’t prove their right to be here – deprived the Windrush generation of their livelihoods, their homes, and in some cases their freedom and their country.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel says the law would be used in “exceptional circumstances” on people who pose the most risk to the UK. 

However, Frances Webber, the vice-chair of the Institute, told The Guardian: “This amendment sends the message that certain citizens, despite being born and brought up in the UK and having no other home, remain migrants in this country. Their citizenship, and therefore all their rights, are precarious and contingent.”

Who will be affected by Clause 9?

According to the New Statesman, over 6 million people in England and Wales could have their citizenship status affected by the clause.

Although the clause doesn’t change the law on who can lose citizenship and on what grounds, it has stoked fears that ethnic minorities could be treated differently to white Britons for committing the same crimes.

Home Office powers to strip British nationals of their citizenship were introduced after the 2005 London bombings and increased under Theresa May’s tenure as home secretary from 2010, and were broadened still further in 2014.

The requirement to give notice had also already been weakened in 2018, allowing the Home Office to serve notice by putting a copy of it on a person’s file – but only in cases where their whereabouts were unknown.

The new clause would remove the need for notification altogether in a range of circumstances. It would also appear to be capable of being applied retrospectively to cases where an individual was stripped of citizenship without notice before the clause became law, raising questions about their ability to appeal.

In the wake of the criticism, the Home Office said: “British citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Deprivation of citizenship on conducive grounds is rightly reserved for those who pose a threat to the UK or whose conduct involves very high harm. The nationality and borders bill will amend the law so citizenship can be deprived where it is not practicable to give notice, for example if there is no way of communicating with the person.”

Why is Clause 9 so controversial?

Campaign group Freedom from Torture called the bill “the biggest attack on the rights of refugees, and torture survivors in 70 years,” calling on the public to take action against it by signing a petition that has already garnered over 300,000 signatures.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a House of Lords peer, criticised the government further, saying: “Proposals in Clause 9 mean I would have greater protections when being deprived of my driving licence than being stripped of my nationality. This power grab by the Home Secretary is deeply dangerous and must be stopped.”

Legal action NGO Reprieve added in a statement: “This clause would give Priti Patel unprecedented power to remove your citizenship in secret, without even having to tell you, and effectively deny you an appeal. Under this regime, a person accused of speeding would be afforded more rights than someone at risk of being deprived of their British nationality. This once again shows how little regard this government has for the rule of law.

It highlighted that in other parts of the world, including the US, citizenship stripping is condemned as a “dangerous denial of responsibility for your own nationals”.

“Ministers should listen to our closest security ally rather than doubling down on this deeply misguided and morally abhorrent policy,” it added.

However, it’s not just Clause 9 that campaigners are rejecting. Other proposed changes in the bill have attracted heavy criticism, including rendering claims from anyone arriving in the UK by an illegal route inadmissible, while criminalising them and anyone who seeks to save their lives, and giving Border Force staff immunity from prosecution if people die in the Channel during “pushback” operations.

“The #NationalityAndBordersBill a draconian Bill which poses an existential threat to us all. We must continue to resist it at every turn,” tweeted the Muslim Association of Britain.

“This bill will effectively make the government unchallengeable and refuge and asylum practically impossible,” added the Good Law Project in a statement.

What are the next steps?

Members of the public have been demonstrating in Westminster alongside groups such as Media Diversified, South Asian Solidarity Group, The Association of Muslim Lawyers, Windrush Lives and Stand Up To Racism, Sikh Council UK, Birmingham Trade Union Council and Palestine Forum of Britain.

The petition to remove Clause 9 from the bill has reached over 300,000 signatures; however the government responded on 5 January to say that it “will not remove Clause 9. It is necessary to ensure deprivation powers can be used effectively and will only apply in very limited circumstances. It does not affect the right to appeal.”

However, the IRR tweeted: “Our ambition should be wider than removing Clause 9. We should have in our sights the exclusionary logic of citizenship deprivation and its expansion since 2002, and also the parallel exclusionary logic which will see refugees pushed back, denied sanctuary and offshored by this bill”.

The Nationality and Borders bill is currently being debated in the House of Lords after it was passed in parliament and the outcome of the Lords debates can decide whether Clause 9 becomes law or not. 

Images: Getty

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