Comment: How the government secretly strips Brits of their citizenship

Hilary Stauffer: 'Citizenship-stripping is morally repugnant and ethically suspect'.
Hilary Stauffer: 'Citizenship-stripping is morally repugnant and ethically suspect'.

By Hilary Stauffer

Recent reports of the United Kingdom's alarming policy of citizenship-stripping makes for sober reading.

The Bureau for Investigative Journalism detailed how over the past two years the home secretary has quietly revoked the citizenship of 16 British citizens (out of a total 21 since 2002), usually while they are abroad in another country.

Those affected are usually suspected of having ties to militant or terrorist groups, and often find themselves suddenly without the protection of a European passport when they are visiting politically-inconvenient countries in the Middle East or North Africa. Once they can no longer appeal to a British consular officer for help, these former citizens may find themselves at the mercy of the Djibouti's intelligence services or the CIA's drone pilots. It's a frightening new front in counter-terrorism.


It's perhaps remarkable that the Americans didn't think of it first. However, it seems that even while the US claims the dubious legal authority to kill its citizens by drone anywhere in the world, it would be beyond the pale to revoke their US citizenship before doing so.

Thus, at first blush, it seems surprising that the UK — with all its attendant European human rights obligations — would be at the vanguard of this civil libertarian nightmare. And yet it isn't.

The UK tends to fight the 'war on terror' by proxy, by making it easy for others —usually the Americans — to carry out the dirty work, and reap the rewards while maintaining the façade of a rights-respecting EU member state.

The gambit of citizenship-stripping is totally in line with this: it removes the final inconvenient diplomatic hurdle to sub-contracting human rights violations to the Americans. Once the British passport has been revoked, it is no longer the UK's problem that the Americans don't play by the rules during interrogations or while on the hunt for militants. No duty of care is extended — so no messy inquiries will be made.

Although citizenship-stripping is morally repugnant and ethically suspect, the Home Office will no doubt hide behind the little-noticed 2002 law that permit such activities in the name of national security – at least until a robust legal challenge is launched. However, the British government's responsibility to its current citizens remains, and this is where they are failing on a massive scale.

The British-Somali community lives in fear: pressured to become MI5 stooges or risk losing their passport. This is not a just choice. Either they can 'inform' (whatever this loosely-defined term means) on the only people who have ever made any effort to help them integrate into their country, or they can be sent back to a lawless war zone where they risk detention, torture or death by drone.

Keeping British citizens safe from terrorism is an admirable goal; enacting draconian polices to put them in harm's way is not. The UK government needs to stop fighting the 'war on terror' by proxy and instead implement creative policies that can maintain security and human rights at the same time.

Hilary Stauffer is deputy director of Reprieve's secret prisons team.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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