The number of appeals against UK government decisions to deprive people of their British citizenship reached a record high in 2018, the New Statesman can reveal.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the number of people who lodged an appeal rose from five in 2011 to 88 in 2018. The Home Office said it would not provide more recent figures because they were deemed a “subset of data due for future publication”. It did not say when they would be published.
The rise in appeals reflects the increase from 2011 to 2017 in the government removing British citizenship (see graph below).
Between 2006 and 2017, Home Office figures show, 199 people were stripped of their citizenship, with 104 cases in 2017 alone.
The UK home secretary can remove citizenship if it is “conducive to the public good” and would not make a person stateless; or when a person has obtained citizenship through fraud or false representation.
Since 2014, the UK home secretary has also been able to strip naturalised citizens (meaning they were born abroad) of their citizenship, if they believe the person acted in a manner “prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK” and have reasonable grounds to believe that the person can become a national of another country. This applies even when doing so would render that person stateless, according to a briefing by the House of Commons Library and a report presented to parliament in March 2020 by the current Home Secretary Priti Patel.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality" and the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness says that nations "shall not deprive a person of their nationality if such deprivation would render him stateless". In the case of Shamima Begum – a British-born woman who joined Islamic State as a teenager and had her citizenship removed in 2019 – the government argued her family’s Bangladeshi background was sufficient to deprive her of citizenship because Bangladesh considers anyone born to a Bangladeshi parent to be a citizen from their birth up until the age of 21.
Begum's appeal was derailed in February when the Supreme Court ruled that she could not return to the UK to challenge the government's decision.
Now, the government plans to make the process easier for depriving people of their citizenship. This week, MPs are debating the Nationality and Borders Bill, which would undermine people's right to be notified when their citizenship is taken away and to be notified about their right to appeal.
The bill states that the government does not need to notify those deprived of citizenship if it does not have the necessary contact information, or if it is “for any other reason” not “reasonably practicable” to make contact with them.
The bill also states the government wouldn't have to contact those deprived of citizenship if it is “in the public interest” not to do so.
A Home Office spokesperson told the New Statesman that the bill does not seek to increase the use of the existing power and that it would explain to the person stripped of citizenship their right to appeal once the person had contacted the Home Office.
Exclusive New Statesman analysis finds the changes mean nearly six million people in England and Wales could become eligible to be stripped of their British citizenship without being informed first.
The Home Office spokesperson told the New Statesman:
“Removing someone’s British citizenship has been possible for over a century and is always a last resort against the most dangerous people to protect our national security and public safety – including terrorists and war criminals.
“It always comes with a right of appeal and this will continue with the Nationality and Borders Bill.”