Dominic Grieve QC is a former attorney general and the former Conservative MP for Beaconsfield. Sajjad Karim is the former MEP for Northwest England, former legal affairs spokesperson for Conservatives in the European Parliament.
It is a central tenet of modern conservatism that all the Queen’s subjects are entitled to equality and security under the law, and to share in the rights and freedoms that being a British citizen offers to each of us.
Along with a reputation for sound economic management, it has been one of the most successful offers the Conservative Party has presented to the electorate.
This makes it all the stranger that the current Government seems not to understand the deeply negative impact of its own amendment of Clause 9 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which has just passed the House of Commons.
It allows the Home Secretary to exercise a power to remove, without prior notice, British nationality from any dual national or person deemed capable of claiming an alternative nationality on the grounds that this would be conducive to the public good. There is no other country that gives its government such a without-notice power.
The Government argues correctly that the power to deprive a person of citizenship is over a century old. But, when created, it was aimed solely at individuals who had obtained citizenship by naturalisation and then been found to have obtained it by fraud or acted criminally or incompatibly with that citizenship subsequently. It was the last Labour Government which, in its concerns about terrorism, extended this principle to dual nationals who were born British.
The use of this power has really grown in the last few years as it has been applied principally to persons who have left the UK to adhere to terrorist organisations abroad. In doing so it has highlighted the (probably unintended) creation of two distinct tiers of citizenship.
There are estimated to be some six million people in our country who have or are eligible for dual nationality. Most are from ethnic minorities, but it also includes all British citizens born in Northern Ireland.
Unlike the rest of the Queen’s subjects, they are now, at least technically, at risk of losing their British nationality without notice on an administrative decision.
The fact the Government argues it has no intention of doing any such thing does not lessen the sense for many from immigrant backgrounds that they are being treated as second-class citizens – an impression that the Windrush scandal has shown, in a specific instance, to have been true.
Nor does it help that this measure being included in a Bill that is regrettably suffused with measures that will be unworkable in practice, are unrelated to fighting terrorism, are seen to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment, and likely to put us in breach of international law. Creating a power for forced boat push-backs by the UK Border Force, and giving those who do this immunity from prosecution for the potential consequences, reinforces an impression that the Government is willing to put the lives of those immigrants claiming asylum at risk.
Similarly, the proposal cannot be divorced from the Government’s plans for scrapping the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a ‘Bill of Rights’. This appears designed to make the protection of the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the Government insists we will remain adherent, less accessible to those in immigrant communities most likely to need its protection in respect of deportation.
In the Policing Bill, the Government is also seeking to clamp down on rights of peaceful protest by giving unprecedented powers to the Home Secretary for its control and removing the right ever to do so in the vicinity of Parliament.
Taken together it creates an impression of authoritarian illiberalism. Not surprisingly, they are particularly ill-viewed in Scotland and Wales, which reinforces the sense of disunity in our country.
The irony, is that in the case of the measures to remove British citizenship they are, as was pointed out by David Davis MP, completely unnecessary for the deprivation policy to be operated. The Government seems to have completely lost sight of another key Conservative principle that in addressing problem policy areas, it should do so with the minimum of interference with liberties necessary to deliver pragmatic and sensible outcomes. Instead, it is using legislation as a form of propaganda.
Conservative MPs and Peers still have an opportunity working together to introduce some common sense and proportionality into this legislation. Amending Clause 9 would send out a powerful signal that One Nation Conservatism is for the benefit of all British citizens.