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UK Nationality Bill: Legal experts fear 'disproportionate' impact on minorities

Human rights barrister Raza Husain and other legal experts described Clause 9 of the proposed bill as 'unconstitutional' and 'ill-defined'
An activist wearing a mask depicting Home Secretary Priti Patel protests ahead of the government's Nationality and Borders Bill, opposite the Houses of Parliament on 7 December 2021 (AFP)

Legal experts have warned that proposed powers to strip Britons of their citizenship without notifying them will have a "disproportionate impact" on non-white British citizens and dubbed them as "astonishingly unjust".

Clause 9 of the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill would give the UK home secretary unprecedented powers that would enable them to deprive any British citizen of their citizenship without notifying them. 

The new powers would mean any British citizens who can qualify for a passport in another country could lose their UK citizenship. 

UK government seeking new powers to remove citizenship without notice
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Commenting on the proposed legislation, the 41-page legal opinion commissioned by the Good Law Project, Cage UK and Media Diversified, on behalf of leading immigration lawyers from Leigh Day, described the proposed deprivation powers as "ill-defined" and "unconstitutional". 

Among the concerns raised by the legal opinion, written by human rights barrister Raza Husain, includes fears that the new powers are "identified in terms so broad and vague that, and on their face, they do very little to constrain the exercise of the Secretary of State's discretion". 

It adds that: "Clause 9, as presently framed, confers upon the secretary of state an exorbitant, ill-defined and unconstitutional power to make a deprivation order without notice."

The legal opinion also warns that Clause 9 contravenes existing obligations set under Britain's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and impede an individual's right to appeal the citizenship deprivation order. 

Commenting on the decision to commission the legal opinion, Jolyon Maughan of the Good Law Project said the proposed powers "casts a shadow" on ethnic minority groups across Britain. 

'Whatever their intent, provisions which make it easier to remove the contingent citizenship held by large numbers of black and brown people are racist in effect'

- Jolyon Maughan, Good Law Project

"Citizenship, the High Court has said, gives a 'sense of identity and belonging.' Even the prospect of its removal constrains enjoyment of the normal incidents of life for affected people," Maughan said in a statement. 

"Whatever their intent, provisions which make it easier to remove the contingent citizenship held by large numbers of black and brown people are racist in effect. The government is invited to reflect on whether it wishes to embed racism in our legislation."

Muhammad Rabbani, managing director of Cage, also commended the legal opinion and said that "citizenship deprivation overwhelmingly and disproportionately impacts minorities".

"This is two-tier citizenship in action, and why the Bill must be challenged. Citizenship is a right we must all enjoy equally," Rabbani said in a statement. 

"We hope this legal analysis informs the debate in the House of Lords and the House of Commons... Whatever the government's intent, provisions which make it easier to remove the contingent citizenship held by large numbers of black and brown people are racist in effect.

"We are inviting the government to reflect on whether it wishes to embed racism in our legislation." 

Hundreds deprived of UK citizenship 

Later this month, the Bill is set to return to the House of Lords for further debate. This latest proposed Bill comes after an online petition opposing Clause 9 was signed by 320,000 people. 

Since 2002, the UK government's powers to deprive Britons of their citizenship have significantly grown under successive governments.

The UK Home Office has deprived at least 455 people of their citizenship since 2011.

Last year, a 37-year-old British man, known as N3, who was left stranded abroad was given back his UK citizenship after he was unlawfully stripped of it.

N3 is now fighting the UK Home Office to give his daughter, who was born in Bangladesh, a British passport.

The UK Home Office rejected his daughter's application and said it was due to him not being a British citizen when she was born.