On Wednesday, the House of Commons voted 305-239 in favour of Theresa May’s Immigration Bill which will allow the Home Secretary to strip a person of their citizenship, and all the rights that go with it, if they are declared a terror suspect.
What’s This Bill?
Theresa May already has the power to revoke British citizenship if someone’s presence is not “conducive to the public good” or if they have obtained British nationality by fraudulent means, but before this Bill she was not able to remove citizenship on conducive grounds if it left someone stateless.
A few months ago the Supreme Court decided in the case of Hilal al Jedda that it could not withdraw citizenship from an individual if this would leave him or her stateless. The right wing press had a field day and the government immediately set about changing the law in its favour. And so, Clause 60 of the Immigration Bill was born.
The reasons people oppose granting the power to make a person stateless to any government is the lessons we have gained from history about the end game of such policies. The policy was utilised by Nazi Germany’s Nuremburg Laws and various other totalitarian regimes.
But we don’t even need to look that far back. Theresa May has been nicking people’s passports in almost total silence for a while now. A total 27 UK citizens have had their passports removed by the Home Secretary, according to her own office. At least two of those whose families received the official Notice of Deprivation were suspiciously killed afterwards by the use of US drones.
“…was picked up by Djibouti’s secret police, whom he told he was British. After calls, the agents told him the British authorities said he was no longer a British citizen. He had no other passport and was therefore rendered stateless. This meant he had no access to consular advice as to his rights; no representations were made that he should be brought before a court. As a result he was interrogated at length with no legal protection, handed over to American agents, further interrogated and then hooded and flown to the US without any extradition proceedings.”
Yhere has been vast opposition to the Bill as a whole and Clause 60 in particular from across civil society, with more than 300 academics signing an open letter advocating opposition to the Bill.
Lord Pannick, who organised the successful Lords revolt against May’s unethical add-on to the Immigration Bill said in January:
“There are regrettably all too many dictators around the world willing to use the creation of statelessness as a weapon. We should do nothing to suggest that it is acceptable.”
A prime example of a person made stateless under terror charges for acting in the public interest would be NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti agreed, saying:
“Removing the right to have rights is a new low. Washing our hands of potential terrorists is dangerously short-sighted and statelessness is a tool of despots not democrats. The Lords rightly ripped this plan apart – now it’s time our MPs matched their courage.”
Sadly, the House of Commons has once again demonstrated itself more regressive than a house of unelected peers, and failed to uphold the Lord’s amendment.
The House was almost empty for the debate, with most MPs simply turning up to vote in their predetermined manner. Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, and Conservative MPs David Davis and Richard Shepherd were the only members of the Coalition parties to vote against the government.
Once again, UK parliament is passing laws that allow it to bypass the justice system and the Human Rights Act. If the law is applied successfully to prevent a miscarriage of justice against the interests of the UK government, within months, weeks and even days, the law is changed.
Jeremy Hunt sought to close the Accident and Emergency Unit and downgrade maternity services at the well known and respected Lewisham Hospital in 2013. But rather than allow this to happen, the community rallied and organised an effective campaign. A legal challenge was brought by Save Lewisham Hospital and Lewisham Council in South East London. It got financial backing from thousands of locals and activists from campaign group 38 Degrees.
In August last year, the High Court ruled that Hunt was indeed acting outside his powers by taking the decision to close the A&E against the wishes of local GP commissioners and community.
Hunt said he would appeal the decision. But instead, he brought forward Clause 119 of the coalition government’s Care Bill. This gives the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt and civil servants the direct power to close hospitals. The new laws mean that a hospital can be closed or downgraded even if it is performing well.
The UK Government’s controversial Back to Work programme, deemed workfare by critics, received a bloody nose in February 2012, when all but one of the WorkFare schemes were found to compel a person’s labour and deemed illegal by the Court of Appeal at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Public Interest Lawyers took up the cases of the two and succeeded at the Court of Appeal of the Royal Court of Justice in February 2012. The UK Government launched an appeal against the decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the verdict, deemed workfare illegal, and the 150,000 people who’d had their welfare payments withheld under workfare sanctions could look forward to receiving the money due them.
But throughout the appeals process, the Government was busy changing the law to enact retroactive legislation that would render these rulings irrelevant.
Michael Gove’s policies looked to create a 120,000 shortfall in primary school places, opening him up to legal action from parents whose children are guaranteed a place by law – so he changed the rules to remove the guarantee.
The system of Legal Aid was supporting the voiceless and vulnerable of Britain to hold the government and it’s private partners to account over abuses from welfare cuts to unfair treatment of immigrants – so Justice Secretary Chris Grayling slashed the budget and changed the rules. Grayling also gave the government new powers to prevent Judicial review proceedings, like those which kept open Lewisham A&E, and ruled Workfare illegal. These moves are designed to make legal opposition to government policy impossible for those who cannot afford it – which is pretty much everyone negatively impacted by ideological austerity.
This list isn;t even exhaustive. When the law prevents this government implementing its policies, it simply rewrites the law.
The Infrastructure of a Police State
When preparing your systems of policing, law and justice – you don’t prepare for the best government, you prepare for the worst. The question is not:’ is the government using this power for ill?’, but ‘could a government use this power for ill?’
No Home Secretary, however benevolent, should have this much power. Granting the Home Secretary the power to to revoke a person’s citizenship, turns citizenship from an inalienable right, into a privilege bestowed and stripped at the behest of the state.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, who fought the Bill in the House of Lords, writes:
Deprivation of citizenship is another way of avoiding the old-fashioned process of putting people on trial if they are suspected of doing wrong. It is a way of short-cutting the rule of law. Hannah Arendt said that statelessness deprives people of ‘the right to have rights’. It is a policy that has been used by the worst tyrannical regimes. It was why so many people wandered the world stateless after the Second World War and why in 1961 the UK with other nations signed up to the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. This intended change in the law will be a source of shame to us in the years to come. It must be opposed by us all.
When we hear the words ‘terror suspect’, we focus more on the first word than the second. We live in a country that is supposed to presume a person innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. It is not enough to cry ‘terror’ and wipe out a person’s right to fair trial. Our justice system is being transformed away from that which supports a healthy democracy, and towards that which supports a more authoritarian system of government.
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