British Parliamentarians Raise Statelessness Concerns

[It is] so fundamentally flawed, so in breach of international law and so damaging in its practical consequences for the security of this country that it should be removed from the bill.
Lord Pannick, Member of UK House of Lords

British parliamentarians have voiced serious concerns over government proposals that would change the conditions under which the government can strip nationality from naturalized British citizens.

The proposals, in Clause 60 of the Immigration Bill, would extend existing powers to allow the removal of British citizenship from individuals who acquired it by naturalization, and then acted with serious prejudice to the vital interests of the UK. In particular, the legislation would repeal a ban on using this power where that would leave the individual stateless, which the UK Parliament adopted in 2003 with the support of the parties now in government.

The government has repeatedly used its powers to strip British citizenship against dual citizens abroad. In at least two cases, the persons were later killed by drones, while one was taken by rendition to the United States. The government wants to use any new power to make British people stateless even while abroad.

Debating the measure on March 17, members of the House of Lords challenged the government to show the change would comply with international law. They also argued that the UK would signal to other states that statelessness is acceptable. Many were concerned  that the law would undermine international co-operation and make it harder for those accused of serious crimes to be brought to justice.

The government’s idea was first made public in November 2013, shortly after the UK Supreme Court overruled a decision to take citizenship away from Mr Hilal al-Jedda, a naturalised British citizen. The government then waited until January to add the clause to the bill, 24 hours before the end of the House of Commons debate on the bill: a move described as ‘disgraceful’ in the upper house. A British judge has spoken of the ‘appalling prospect’ that the government could use the new law against al-Jedda, who would then face a third decision to make him stateless.

Unscrupulous states use statelessness as a weapon against political opponents and vulnerable minorities. Retired Supreme Court judge, Lord Brown, called the proposal ‘a shocking example to other states, which ordinarily are readier than we are to make such a radical departure from the consensus as to proper international human rights conduct.’He reminded parliament that the Supreme Court had referred to “The evil of statelessness” and spoke of its “terrible practical consequences”.

Lord Pannick, a leading human rights lawyer who has acted for the government in many cases, challenged the claim that the change would help protect national security. British citizens made stateless could not be sent to other states and could be deported back to Britain if abroad. He called the proposal ‘so fundamentally flawed, so in breach of international law and so damaging in its practical consequences for the security of this country that it should be removed from the bill.’

Baroness Lister asked for the government lawyers’ response to the Open Society Justice Initiative opinion that the new law could breach the UK’s obligations as a party to the 1961 United Nations Convention on reducing statelessness, because the UK had repealed the law in 2003. The government’s position was that the repeal made no difference, but no detailed answer has yet been given.

The speeches referred to strong opposition from UK rights groups including Liberty, Justice and the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association.

The Lords allowed the clause to remain in the bill, but the measure is slated to return for debate later in March. Politicians from all the main parties in the House of Commons have also raised serious concerns at the plans. Labour’s Baroness Smith said when closing this week’s debate the that ‘the jury is still out.’

The British parliament should find the clause guilty of violating fundamental protections and the rule of law, essential elements of national security, and reject Clause 60.

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