Health

Nationality and Borders Bill creates dangerous tiered system


I HAVE always had, and this won’t go down well, a largely ambivalent feeling towards my British citizenship.

It took a fair chunk of paperwork but, other than that, it was little more than a bureaucratic tick box to allow me to stay in the UK.

That’s privilege, make no mistake. There was no peril, no risk, no dark dealings with people smugglers, no fleeing of persecution. Just a plane ride, a few years of residence and some forms.

Privilege is never thinking twice about it. I’m as entitled to be here as the next lassie and that’s that.

Ah, but now it’s not. Like several million others, the new Nationality and Borders Bill means I might be deprived of my British citizenship without warning thanks to Clause 9, a hastily added and barely debated provision to the bill not mentioned in consultations.

Giving the government vast powers over foreign-born nationals and citizens with another nationality, the clause extends powers already in the gift of the home secretary – powers unique to the UK.

Since the passage of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act in 2002, the government has been able to strip a person of British citizenship if they were a dual national.

The government has strengthened its position at routine intervals since: in 2006 the home secretary was given the power to remove citizenship from dual nationals “in the public good”.

Then, in 2014, this extended to British citizens born overseas without dual nationality, who can be made stateless if the home secretary finds “reasonable grounds” they can become a citizen of another state and that they have acted in “a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests” of the UK or her territories.

HeraldScotland:

No other country has given itself powers to make its citizens stateless without notice so points for originality, if nothing else.

How extraordinary, to strip a citizen of their home and identity because they have somewhere else they could be, even if they don’t want to be there, or if it’s neither practical, financially viable or even safe for them to be there.

When I think of my close friends, how many fall into this category? One Irish, two South African, one Spanish, one Canadian, one French, one German, two Pakistani.

One friend has claim to four passports. Another friends’ wee boy has three passports, thanks to various collisions of good fortune. Where would they send them, if it came to it?

A lack of empathy for migrants – never mind active hostility – is so, among everything else that it is, ridiculous. Just about everyone has ties to somewhere else. And if you don’t, what’s wrong with you?

Shamima Begum, who fled to Syria as a schoolgirl to join Islamic State, is the most well known of those stripped of their nationality but in recent years numbers having been growing.

There were 104 cases in 2017 alone, though since 2018 the numbers have fallen to around 30 a year, according to Home Office figures.

The UK government argues that this legislation is used only in exceptional circumstances, a response to a fear of terrorism, but the wording of the new powers is so broad you could sail a supertanker through it.

As are the conditions under which you would not be notified that this is happening to you: when it is not “reasonably practicable” or for other “public interest” reasons.

If you don’t know what’s happening, you can’t fight it.

Like me, I imagine there are a great many white dual nationals who have never once given thought to this fact until learning of this new fragility.

I imagine there are a great many, also, who will continue not to think about because, again, that is our privilege.

While the bill is ostensibly aimed at those who have committed grievous crimes, my transgression would have to be significantly more serious than were I black or brown.

The New Statesman looked at data from the England and Wales census of 2011 and found the data to show nearly six million people to be affected, no surprises, the majority of those to be people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

It found two in five people to fall under the clutch of the legislation to be from an ethnic minority background compared to one in 20 white people.

When Theresa May was Home Secretary she justified the tightening of immigration laws with the argument that citizenship is a privilege, not a right. This sentiment has been echoed by the government in defence of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which also, it must be emphasised, has cruel implications for asylum seekers.

It is an extension of an increasingly hostile environment for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to this country that has been building across the past two decades and now this government is bending the law to fit its whims, rather than building morally robust legislation.

In 2008, Boris Johnson, as London mayor, went against party lines to commission a feasibility study looking at granting amnesty to people living illegally in the city.

Some 400,000 people living illegally in the capital should, he said, have the chance to earn the right to stay. Mr Johnson was not motivated by good feeling but by finances: these hundreds of thousands of people were tens of millions of pounds in taxes.

While the then-mayor said that people had broken the law to be resident in the city, it was not feasible to deport them all. Instead, he said, he wanted to “lead the debate” on the issue.

One doesn’t have to wonder what happened to Boris Johnson to change his mind so drastically on this issue. Mr Johnson doesn’t lead debates, he flows as the foul wind blows him.

This new legislation is as foul as it comes. Already there was a two tier system in place with regards immigration. Earning requirements for migrants introduced a class barrier; the targetting of the Windrush generation, a race barrier.

An NHS worker of 25 years service, David Chung, tweeted this week that he and his children are made “second class citizens” by this bill. The First Minister retweeted him with the words, “He’s as Scottish as I am”.

Today is the eve of International Migrants Day, a day to reflect on the challenges of international migration.

The UK has never been more hostile to migrants, never been so blatantly racist. Millions of Britons are unlikely to be deported but altering the law to make it easier to be rid of us creates a hierarchy. For some, citizenship is a right. For others, it’s earned.

If this passes in the House of Lords then Nicola Sturgeon is wrong. Mr Chung will not be, in law, as Scottish as she is. Neither will I.

This is a sinister creation of tiered nationality, to be resisted at all costs.





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