Melanie Goldberg examines how dangerous it is when history repeats itself.
For those of you unaware, the Conservative government quietly passed the second reading of a controversial bill deemed the “Nationality and Borders Bill”, that effectively targets BAME communities. The law allows the Home Office to strip citizenship from UK citizens if there is a possibility that they can obtain citizenship elsewhere and without warning, through Clause 9. Despite widespread protests and a petition that garnered over 300,000 signatures, the government is adamant that the Clause remain.
This is not the first bill to ascribe power to revoke citizenship; British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914 was the first to grant this power. The second Nationality Act, passed in 1948, clarified that those who were citizens of the UK and its Colonies were entitled to official citizenship, which is particularly relevant to the Windrush Scandal. The same bill also introduced the ability to strip this citizenship if the accused was found guilty of “fraud, false representation or the concealment of any material fact” during the citizenship process. Although the Act also states that citizenship can be removed on the basis of “has shown himself by act or speech to be disloyal or disaffected towards His Majesty” – a clearly outdated principle. The British Nationality Act 1981, along with the next few, followed similar guidelines in relation to deprivation of citizenship.
The Nationality and Borders Bill purportedly acts under the guise of “maintaining our national security”. One of the principal differences between this and the previous iterations is that the stripping of citizenship can be done “without prior notification”. The Bill states that this decision is only sanctioned in the most extreme of cases such as “war crimes” and “espionage and acts of terrorism” – similar to the case of Shamima Begum, who was stripped of her British citizenship and left stranded in a refugee camp. The UK Home office claimed that she was eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, which the Bangladeshi government has since refuted rendering her stateless. This bill can only be weaponised against certain individuals and is not a measure of fair punishment for any crime.
“This bill can only be weaponised against certain individuals and is not a measure of fair punishment for any crime.”
The Windrush Scandal saw the unlawful persecution of approximately 90 UK citizens who had arrived here in the decades ensuing the Second World War, whose right to citizenship was affirmed in the aforementioned 1948 Nationality Act. After residing in the UK for decades, for some their entire lives, whilst travelling abroad, they were denied re-entry and some tragically died whilst waiting to be readmitted, far from their home and family. An independent review of the scandal revealed that the Government had indeed unlawfully discriminated against those from the “Windrush generation” and their descendants. The report also revealed that some senior government officials felt no remorse for the injustice that had been inflicted, rather laying the blame with those affected. The scandal was not just a result of one group of officials from one government; laws that would later discriminate against the “Windrush” were gradually introduced from the 1960s onwards. This shows that we cannot afford to be complacent; a recession of basic human rights does not always happen overnight. Sadly, they are not the only group to be affected.
“A recession of basic human rights does not always happen overnight.”
This bill, in all its ridiculousness, targets groups you may not even initially consider. A bill that could strip the citizenship of every single Jew and every person with a Jewish parent or grandparent, on the basis that they qualify for Israeli citizenship. Removing citizenship from all Northern Irish people on the basis that they qualify for Irish citizenship; can you imagine the whole of Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, without British citizenship? This is alongside anybody with a single Irish grandparent. Those who can prove that their family were expelled during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions will also be subject to this law in theory. What about UK citizens with foreign-born spouses? In many countries one can claim citizenship after marriage and could therefore be considered a legitimate “alternative”. Whilst these situations are highly unlikely, the point is that they are possible and all of us should be terrified. No doubt that most people will know of a friend and family member affected by this.
The ridiculousness of this law is what makes it so terrifying. Autocracy is slowly but surely creeping up on us and will continue to do so with the current levels of mainstream apathy we are seeing. Particularly for those who believe that they will be unaffected, that is a delusion: you will be affected in some way or another, be it a friend or family member. We cannot wait until our basic human rights have already been revoked, because by then, it will be too late; we need to remain terrified of these powers, be vigilant and resist them.