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Tue 25 January 2022

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi told peers that immigrants’ fears that future generations would be treated like outsiders and second-class citizens are not unfounded

The Government’s plans to allow British people to be stripped of their British citizenship without notice is a “deeply dangerous power grab” by the Home Secretary, according to the former chair of the Conservative Party and the first Muslim woman to attend the Cabinet.

Conservative peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi called for clause 9 of the Nationality and Borders Bill – which was passed by MPs in the Commons and is now being considered in the House of Lords – to be struck out and said it was a “government sleight of hand” as a “last-minute addition”.

Although the power to rescind citizenship from British citizens, if it is deemed “conducive to the public good”, has existed for a number of years, it has been incrementally expanded over time.

The 1981 British Nationality Act allows for the deprivation of citizenship. Today, a British citizen with no other citizenship can be stripped of their citizenship if there are reasonable grounds to believe that they can acquire another citizenship. The high-profile case of Shamima Begum in 2019 demonstrated the principle – with her British citizenship rescinded because her parents are from Bangladesh, even though she has never lived there. 

Clause 9 now extends the power further, meaning that the Government will not be required to provide notice of a decision to deprive a person of their citizenship.

“This power grab by the Home Secretary is deeply dangerous, one that seeks to deprive someone of their right to citizenship without even giving the person being deprived the right to know, depriving them even of the right to check whether the Secretary of State had the legal basis or accurate facts to exercise that power,” Baroness Warsi told peers. “These proposals would mean that I would have greater protections when being deprived of my driving licence than of my nationality.”

The Home Office has said that “citizenship is a privilege, not a right” but that clause 9 would only be used in “exceptional circumstances” – such as not knowing where an individual is because they are in a war zone or because informing them would “reveal sensitive intelligence sources”. 

A fact-sheet issued by the Home Office on clause 9 states: “It is vital, including to our national security, that we ensure that, just because we cannot immediately tell a person they are to be deprived of British citizenship, it doesn’t make the decision any less valid or prevent the deprivation order being made.”

But the clause has led to widespread concern that the power could be used more widely, and expanded further, with analysis by the New Statesman concluding that up to six million British citizens could be eligible to a deprivation order without warning under clause 9 – including two in every five people from non-white minorities, compared with just one in 20 people categorised as white.

Baroness Warsi told the House of Lords that the “notion of citizenship being a privilege seems to be a popular, but sadly ignorant, mantra”.

“My parents’ generation, now in their 80s, always feared that their future generations would be outsiders, second-class citizens who would be told to ‘go back home’ or to leave,” she said. “My generation always dismissed these fears as unfounded, but Windrush proved they were not baseless. Clause 9 and the Government’s exponential use of deprivation powers compound these fears.”

Baroness Warsi, who was made a peer in 2007, was born in Yorkshire to Muslim parents from Pakistan. A lawyer, she served as chair of the Conservative Party from 2010 to 2012 and was a Senior Minister of State in David Cameron’s Coalition Government until her resignation over the Government’s policy on the Israel-Gaza conflict in 2014.

She has been vocal about Conservative Islamophobia. After plans for the party to hold an independent inquiry were watered-down in 2019, she told the Guardian: “It’s like a really painful divorce. It does feel like I’m in an abusive relationship at the moment, where I’m with somebody that I really shouldn’t be with. It’s not healthy for me to be there any more with the Conservative Party.”

Speaking in the House of Lords debate, she said that her parents – from a former UK colony – had rights as British citizens, as “all those in the Empire and the Commonwealth did”. 

“When my grandfathers fought for the British Indian Army as British subjects, they did so as citizens,” Baroness Warsi said. “When the Windrush generation answered the call for workers and came to this country, they did so as citizens. When South Asians took up gruelling jobs in the mills and foundries of Yorkshire, as my family did, they did so as citizens, as equal members of this country in a continuation of a bond that had started decades earlier.”

She said this had not been a “conditional or temporary right” that a government would “try to take away from them and their children or grandchildren in ever more cunningly creative ways” and that “it certainly was not a privilege”. 

“It was a right, one established through our colonial history, through strife, blood, sweat and those who even gave their lives,” she added. “By formally taking a British passport, they were merely formalising a right, not having a privilege bestowed upon them.”

Baroness Warsi blamed both Conservative and Labour Governments for expanding the scope of deprivation of citizenship over the years, because they had “torn down the basic belief that all citizens in this country are and should be equal and that, as a citizen, you are a permanent member”.

According to the Home Office, removing British citizenship is used against “those who obtained citizenship by fraud and against the most dangerous people, such as terrorists, extremists and serious organised criminals” and “always comes with a right to appeal”.

The latest figures show that, between 2010 and 2018, around 19 people a year on average have been deprived of their citizenship on the grounds of this being ‘conducive to the public good’, as stated in the Home Office’s fact-sheet.

“These laws have the potential to include Members of Parliament and their families,” Baroness Warsi told peers. “They include our loved ones, friends and colleagues; they include some of us. This is not scaremongering, this is fact.”

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