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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Has the Home Secretary put the UK in greater jeopardy?

Whatever one's views about the request of Shamima Begum to return to the UK, there are some legitimate questions to be asked about the response of Sajid Javid in effectively rendering her stateless to prevent her re-entering the country.

The first of course revolves around the legality of the decision, and whether it sets a precedent for the future. As I understand the law, the UK Government does have the right to remove British citizenship from an individual and has done so 150 times since 2010, but that only applies if they have dual citizenship.

It may well be that Begum will challenge the decision in the courts, and if that happens then we will get some clarity on this issue. However, the arbitrary exercise of power for political reasons is not a good look for any Government Minister, and as such we must be wary about whether this particular decision opens the door to others, which may not look so clear cut to the popularist press.

The consequence of this decision that will trouble many however, is its impact on the terror threat in the UK. There is a strong argument that allowing Shamima Begum back into the UK is in itself a threat to our national security. On the other hand, if she were to co-operate then she could prove to be a valuable source of information and intelligence on those currently resident in the UK who are intent on doing harm.

Javid has been accused of using the power as an “easy way out”, rather than repatriating alleged Isis fighters to face trial, with figures showing that only one in 10 jihadis returning from Syria has been successfully prosecuted.

My concern coincides with this report in the Independent which says that the government was warned three years ago that stripping people of their citizenship may be an “ineffective and counter-productive weapon against terrorism”.

They say that official documents reveal a government-commissioned review warned in 2016 that removing extremists’ citizenship left them free to continue terrorist activities abroad, prevented monitoring and encouraged the “dangerous delusion that terrorism can be made into a foreign problem”:

Lord Anderson, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said a “scrutiny blackhole” made the impact of citizenship deprivations impossible to assess.

“There hasn’t been independent scrutiny of the exercise of this power, except in the occasional case that might end up in court,” he told The Independent.

“The independent review of counterterrorism law has served this country very well.

“It should in my view be extended to the use of citizenship deprivation powers, which is often used as a counterterrorism instrument.”

Lord Anderson was asked to review changes to the law that allowed the home secretary to strip naturalised British citizens of their nationality, even where they would be made stateless, in the belief they were eligible for the citizenship of another country.

It quoted research by academics in Canada saying it amounted to “a policy of catch and release, setting up today’s convicts as tomorrow’s foreign fighters” and exporting them to places where they can do more damage because they cannot be monitored. 

They warned that citizenship deprivations encouraged “the dangerous delusion that terrorism is (or can be made into) a foreign threat and problem”. His 2016 report warned that: “A citizenship deprivation power has been characterised as an ineffective and counter-productive weapon against terrorism.” 

A powerful tool in the grooming of potential recruits to ISIS is the exploitation of a feeling of alienation from society, and the idea that Western states are seeking to suppress Islam. The Home Secretary's decision plays into that narrative. We will have to see whether it aids or hinders extremists in the future.
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