Earlier I posted on this blog how British citizenship is being increasingly shaped by foreign nationality laws. Foreign nationality laws become relevant in cases where a person is a dual citizen and is about to lose British citizenship. The common scenario is of national security cases where the government may decide to strip terrorism suspects of their British citizenship. Until recently, the government had to ensure the person affected had a remaining citizenship. This was to prevent creating statelessness. Affected people could challenge the loss of their British citizenship on the ground that they did not have any other citizenship to call their own. The court would then have to examine foreign nationality laws to determine if this was correct. In my last post I criticised how this exercise often becomes a technical assessment of foreign laws. Substantive rights arguments usually did not come up in these cases despite there being clear implications for right to family life (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR) and right to fair trial (Article 6, ECHR). At that time I did not anticipate the rapid change of law that has made even the technical considerations of statelessness mostly redundant.
Since my last post the Immigration Act 2014 has come into existence. It has a provision that enables the Home Secretary to render any naturalized citizen stateless if required. After this new legislation, a court does not need to look at whether or not there is a remaining citizenship anymore for naturalized citizens. Therefore it does not matter whether or not naturalized citizens are dual or single British nationality holders for citizenship cancellation anymore.
Some dual nationals may have got British citizenship at birth but may have another nationality through parentage or some other link. The court would still have to do the exercise to determine if another nationality exists for those who became British citizens at birth. Such citizens can lose British citizenship only if they have another existing citizenship.
The position as it stands now is that only single nationality holders who acquired British citizenship at birth would not lose it for reasons of ‘conduct’. The key question is how effective is this law for national security. Does it make us safer now that everyone but for single nationality birth citizens can potentially lose their citizenship status? Most British politicians seem to think it does. Despite some vigorous opposition in the House of Lords, the change in law has not been difficult here.
Politicians elsewhere also seem to agree that removing citizenship for conduct from some citizens is a sound national security measure. Similar moves are afoot in other countries and the British change is being closely examined by both proponents and opponents of the measures. In Canada the Bill C-24 (pending in Parliament) proposes to strip dual nationality holders of their Canadian citizenship for national security reasons. Canada has not cancelled citizenship on such grounds for years and has a strong tradition of treating all citizens as equals. Unlike the British scene, the Canadian Bill does not tolerate statelessness as of now. It only enables revocation for dual nationality holders. This was the British position prior to the Immigration Act. The British change in law is being closely studied. A move towards including all naturalized citizens as in the UK may perhaps be contemplated in the future.
Whether dual nationality holders or naturalized ones are targeted, these categories consist mostly of immigrant turned citizens. At their best, if revocation laws are used most sparingly and with the best of legal safeguards, they merely express a greater tolerance for wrongful behaviour from one kind of citizen than from another kind. Many would interpret such a distinction, even if merely symbolic, as inequality. At their worst, if revocation is unprotected by legal safeguards and is widespread, such laws would generate real inequality and lead to discontent.
Some may think that citizenship laws that exclude make citizenship exclusive and therefore more valuable but for many others the threat of potential exclusion makes real citizenship elusive. If national security is the justification, governments should show people the hard evidence about how such laws make their countries safer.
Further information: Submissions by the Canadian Bar Association on Bill C-24 Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. http://www.cba.org/cba/submissions/pdf/14-22-eng.pdf
Submissions by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association: http://www.ilpa.org.uk/resources.php/26327/ilpa-briefing-on-government-deprivation-of-citizenship-motions-for-commons-consideration-of-lords-am
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