The controversial Nationality and Borders Bill was introduced by the ruling Conservative Party in the House of Commons on July 6, 2021. The bill has now made progress in the House of Lords, and if passed, it would have an impact on the current UK immigration system with regard to asylum seekers and refugees; and does so primarily by introducing a two tier system for asylum seekers arriving in the country, based on the method of arrival.
In addition, in line with other recommended measures if passed in favor of a law, the bill would endanger the future of six million minorities living in Britain. The majority of UK citizens with dual passports fear they will become more vulnerable and legally discriminated against. The government previously had the power to withdraw nationality, but after notifying the person concerned.
The bill also includes clauses allowing the UK to send asylum seekers, especially boat refugees from various Muslim countries to a “safe third country” and submit claims at a “designated place” determined by the Secretary of State.
British Indian-born Home Secretary Priti Patel said the bill would tackle illegal immigration and the “underlying pull factors in Britain’s asylum system”. The government, in its defense, says the bill seeks to change the current system of asylum claims and appeals, as well as to stop the flow of migrant smuggling and modern slavery.
Why the controversy?
The bill has been criticized by the opposition Labor Party and also by some members of the Conservative Party. Former Tory cabinet minister David Davis called the plans to strip people of British citizenship “uncivilized” and “legally questionable”.
Under current law, deprivation of citizenship can be carried out for those considered to be a threat to the UK – on the basis of acts of terrorism or war crimes – or if they have been granted citizenship fraudulently.
However, as various newspapers reported in November, Patel surreptitiously introduced a provision that would allow the government to strip people of their British citizenship without notice. And this decision sounded the alarm.
The British Nationality Act 1981 requires the Secretary of State to notify a person in writing of a decision to deprive them of their British citizenship before a deprivation order can be made. But clause 9 of the new bill exempts the government from giving an opinion if it is not “reasonably possible” to do so, or in the interest of national security, diplomatic relations or is otherwise in the public interest.
Why the criticism?
Critics say it will give the government enormous power over British citizens who are of another nationality or who may have been born elsewhere. Indeed, naturalized citizens can become stateless without notice. The government, however, says it will not render anyone stateless and affect their right to appeal.
Citizenship stripping can take place for reasons of public interest, mainly related to national security and the fight against terrorism. These decisions enter into force even before appeals can be processed, so it is crucial that the person concerned is informed. The UK has recently seen a significant increase in deprivation of citizenship. Most have taken place when the UK citizen is already abroad, so he is unlikely to be aware of the annulment orders and would find it difficult to appeal.
Davis also said his amendment to clause nine of the bill would still have allowed the Home Secretary to deprive a person of British citizenship, but would take away the right to do so without notice.
The British Law Society gives its opinion on the bill: “We believe that this bill contains a number of measures which are or are likely to be incompatible with international law, undermine access to justice and have an impact on the role of lawyers in immigration cases. .
“We are concerned that allowing differential treatment of refugees based on their arrival in the UK will penalize those arriving by irregular means; this is inconsistent with UK obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
In its recommendations to the government, the Society states: “We believe that the government should remove provisions that may be incompatible with international law; this includes provisions for the differential treatment of refugees based on their mode of arrival, increases the standard of proof to establish whether someone is a refugee and redefines what is considered a particularly serious crime, removes provisions that would harm access to justice; including those that reduce appeal guarantees and unfairly penalize late submission of evidence, remove the immigration court’s power to impose additional fines on lawyers.
Devyani Prabhat, professor of law at the University of Bristol, says that currently no other country can make its own citizens stateless by depriving them of citizenship.
In an article on Conversation.com, Prabhat further says that the practice of deprivation of citizenship in the UK affects minorities and people with an immigrant background much more than white British nationals born in Britain. Removing notification requirements will make calls even more difficult. Even without this change, deprivation laws risk alienating minority communities, but with it, potential court challenges will be eliminated at source.
Human rights organization Amnesty International says that, if passed, the bill “will create significant obstacles and harms for those seeking asylum in the UK asylum system” and that the legislation undermines the Refugee Convention and the UK’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
In October, a team of prominent immigration lawyers also concluded that the controversial bill violates international and national law in at least 10 different ways and accused the government of “flouting” its obligations. Leading the team, human rights activist Raza Husain said if passed the legislation would lead to challenges under international human rights and refugee treaties.
It appears that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Tory government is keen to move away from the liberal policies Britain had adopted since the 1940s, and especially over the past 40 years, motivating talent to join its workforce . This had slowly resulted in the UK becoming a multiethnic, multilingual and multireligious society. Although racial prejudice persists, it is possible to protest in the name of UK law and case law. But now, that may not be possible in the future.
(Asad Mirza is a New Delhi-based political commentator)