Don't trust the government's citizenship-stripping policy

Even if depriving dangerous individuals of their citizenship can be right in principle, can we really trust governments to use such a power prudently in practice?

Should British nationals suspected of terrorist offences or other serious international crimes be stripped of their citizenship? The British government thinks so. Over the past ten years, UK governments have passed legislation that makes it easier to strip citizenship from UK dual nationals when the home secretary deems their citizenship to be “not conducive to the public good”.

Now things have taken a more radical turn. In an amendment just passed by parliament, the government intends to extend denaturalisation powers to naturalised citizens even if it would make them stateless. This is no idle threat. No fewer than 37 UK nationals have been stripped of citizenship since the Conservative government came to power in September 2010, a figure that dwarfs the handful of people who lost citizenship when Labour was in power.

The moral case for such powers is easy to summarise. At first glance, it hardly seems right that an individual who threatens to destroy or undermine a society’s basic institutions should continue to enjoy citizenship of that society. If we presume —- as “contractualist” theories of the state would have it —- that the state is analogous to civil society associations, withdrawal of membership seems particularly appropriate. Virtually all organisations, from golf clubs to churches, have a recognised right to kick out members who set themselves at odds with the key principles of the association in question. We have a rich vocabulary to capture such procedures: associations “expel”, “excommunicate”, or “strike off the register” members who threaten their continued existence or basic norms.

The problem is that the state is not like other organisations, because individuals have no choice but to live under the authority and power of a state. If they are deprived of citizenship and made stateless, they continue to be subject to state power but without the basic protections against it offered by citizenship, including security of residence (protection from deportation), political rights, and a host of entitlements and privileges (including access to education and employment) often reserved solely for citizens.

It was for this reason that, in 1954, the US Supreme Court struck down a law which allowed the American government to take away citizenship as a punishment. Judging denaturalisation to be cruel and unusual, the court argued that “the punishment strips the citizen of his status in the national and international political community. His very existence is at the sufferance of the country in which he happens to find himself… [He] has lost the very right to have rights].”

Unequal treatment

Another concern is that laws to strip citizenship often apply only to some citizens. In the UK, for example, only naturalised citizens could lose their citizenship before 2002; after that, only dual nationals could (because only they would not become stateless). This means that under current British law, if a dual national and a single national commit the same offence (or more accurately, are suspected of committing the same offence), only the dual national could lose her citizenship. This kind of differential treatment undermines the fundamental concept of citizenship as a status with no gradations or rankings.

Even the British government accepted this idea when it introduced new denaturalisation legislation in 2002. Ministers argued, albeit somewhat disingenuously, that by making native-born British nationals (with a second citizenship) subject to the same denaturalisation powers as naturalised citizens, they were ensuring the equal treatment of naturalised Britons.

But even if denaturalisation powers were evenly applied to all, they would still be morally questionable. This is because it may be wrong to conceptualise citizenship simply as a “privilege” dependent on good behaviour. Long-term residents of a state (including those who entered illegally as children) have a moral right to be recognised as citizens based on the social ties and connections they have established in the course of their stay. As the political theorist Joseph Carens writes, there is “something deeply wrong in forcing people to leave a place where they have lived for a long time. Most people form their deepest human connections where they live. It becomes home.”

If social connections and ties constitute a reason for admitting people into citizenship, they are also a reason for not taking citizenship away once it has been acquired. We recognise this principle when we punish common criminals, who may well pose a threat to society, without withdrawing their citizenship.

An unjust policy

A different concern is that denaturalisation laws like the ones active in the UK are simply arbitrary, and for that reason unjust. Our legislation does not require that an individual be convicted of a crime in a court of law; indeed, one of the attractions of the current legislation for British governments is that it allows the home secretary to get rid of individuals without going through the difficult process of providing the evidence necessary for criminal conviction. To be sure, there is a statutory right of appeal, but given that most Britons are stripped of their citizenship when outside the UK, the chances for an effective appeal are minimal. Current laws define the grounds for deprivation so broadly that a successful appeal on the merits of a decision is highly unlikely.

If these moral concerns about stripping of citizenship fail to convince, there is one final and compelling reason why we should look askance at this power. Even if depriving dangerous individuals of their citizenship can be right in principle, can we really trust governments to use such a power prudently in practice? I think not.

Since the Conservative government came to power, they have denaturalised more people than any UK government since before World War II, and they now propose to extend powers so that even statelessness is not a bar. Initial government assurances that this power would be used sparingly and constrained by human rights considerations now seem risible. The key question supporters of denaturalisation need to ask is not whether it can in principle be right to strip citizenship (on that there may be room for debate), but whether it is wise to entrust denaturalisation to a government that has not hesitated to broaden the scope of its use

Matthew J. Gibney does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Home secretary Theresa May. Photo: Getty

Matthew J Gibney is Associate Professor of Politics and Forced Migration at University of Oxford.

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French voters face a choice: Thatcherism or fascism

Today's Morning Call. 

Francois Fillon has been handed the task of saving France from a Marine Le Pen presidency and, by extension, the European Union from collapse, after a landslide win over Alain Juppé in the second round of the centre-right Republican party primary, taking 67 per cent of the vote to Juppé's 33 per cent. 

What are his chances? With the left exhausted, divided and unpopular, it's highly likely that it will be Fillon who makes it into the second round of the contest (under the French system, unless one candidate secures more than half in the first round, the top two go to a run off). 

Le Pen is regarded as close-to-certain of winning the first round and is seen as highly likely to be defeated in the second. That the centre-right candidate looks - at least based on the polls - to be the most likely to make it into the top two alongside her puts Fillon in poll position if the polls are right.

As I explained in my profile of him, his path to victory relies on the French Left being willing to hold its nose and vote for Thatcherism - or, at least, as close as France gets to Thatcherism - in order to defeat fascism. It may be that the distinctly Anglo-Saxon whiff of his politics - "Thatcherite Victor vows sharp shock for France" is the Times splash - exerts too strong a smell for the left to ignore.

The triumph of Brexit in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump in the United States have the left and the centre nervous. The far right is sharing best practice and campaign technique across borders, boosting its chances. 

Of all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most avoidable, so I won't make one. However, there are a few factors that may lie in the way of Le Pen going the way of Trump and Brexit. Hostility towards the European project and white  racial reaction are both deeply woven into the culture and politics of the United Kingdom and the United States respectively. The similarities between Vote Leave and Trump are overstated, but both were fighting on home turf with the wind very much at their backs. 

While there's a wider discussion to be had about the French state's aggressive policy of secularism and diversity blindness and its culpability for the rise of Le Pen, as far as the coming contest is concerned, the unity of the centre against the extremes is just as much a part of French political culture as Euroscepticism is here in Britain. So it would be a far bigger scale of upheaval if Le Pen were to win, though it is still possible.

There is one other factor that Fillon may be able to rely on. He, like Le Pen, is very much a supporter of granting Vladimir Putin more breathing space and attempting to reset Russia's relationship with the West. He may face considerably less disruption from that quarter than the Democrats did in the United States. Still, his campaign would be wise to ensure they have two-step verification enabled.

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Eleanor Mills bagged the first interview with the new PM in the Sunday Times, and it's widely reported in today's papers. Among the headlines: the challenge of navigating  Brexit keeps Theresa May "awake at night", but her Anglican faith helps her through. She also lifted the lid on Philip May's value round the home. Apparently he's great at accessorising. 

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John Kerr, Britain's most experienced European diplomat and crossbench peer, has said there is a "less than 50 per cent" chance that Britain will negotiate a new relationship with the EU in two years and that a transitional deal will have to be struck first, resulting in a "decade of uncertainty". The Guardian's Patrick Wintour has the story

TROUBLED WATERS OVER OIL

A cross-party coalition of MPs, including Caroline Lucas and David Lammy, are at war with their own pension fund: which is refusing to disclose if its investments include fossil fuels. Madison Marriage has the story in the FT

TRUMPED UP CHARGES?

The Ethics Council to George W Bush and Barack Obama say the Electoral College should refuse to make Donald Trump President, unless he sells his foreign businesses and puts his American ones in a genuine blind trust. Trump has said he plans for his children to run his businesses while he is in the Oval Office and has been involved in a series of stories of him discussing his overseas businesses with foreign politicians. The New York Times has detailed the extentof Trump's overseas interests. 

TODAY'S MORNING CALL...

...is brought to you by the City of London. Their policy and resources chairman Mark Boleat writes on Brexit and the City here.

CASTROFF

Fidel Castro died this weekend. If you're looking for a book on the region and its politics, I enjoyed Alex von Tunzelmann's Red Heat, which you can buy on Amazon or Hive.

BALLS OUT

Ed Balls was eliminated from Strictly Come Dancing last night, after finishing in the bottom two and being eliminated by the judges' vote.  Judge Rinder, the daytime TV star, progressed to the next round at his expense. 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

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Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.