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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 March 2019

Can the UK cancel a person's citizenship?

Dual nationals and those whose parents are from an immigrant background could be at risk

Begum wants to return to Britain after fleeing to Syria to marry an ISIS fighter four years ago when she was 15. EPA
Begum wants to return to Britain after fleeing to Syria to marry an ISIS fighter four years ago when she was 15. EPA

The UK announced on Wednesday it would be removing ISIS bride Shamima Begum's citizenship, but international law dictates no country can leave a person stateless. As Britain and other states wrangle over ISIS returnees, here's what you need to know.

Can the UK government cancel someone’s citizenship?

A change to the British Nationality Act in 2014 enabled the government to cancel the citizenship of those born in the UK if the Home Secretary deemed they had acted against the “vital interests” of the UK. They do not have to have been charged or convicted of a crime in the UK or abroad for the Home Secretary to act.

However, the UK is signed up to international law stating that no citizen can be left stateless by virtue of having their citizenship taken away.

The government argues that Shemima Begum’s Bangladeshi heritage means she is eligible to apply for citizenship of another country, even if she is not now a dual national citizen, and they can rescind her UK citizenship.

This argument is likely to be the area which an appeal will focus on. Eligibility and automatic rights are not the same and there is no guarantee she’ll secure citizenship of Bangladesh, particularly given she’s been stripped of her British citizenship for links to a terrorist group, said experts.

What are the next steps?

Ms Begum has 28 days to appeal against the decision to an independent appeals court. If this is unsuccessful, she can seek a judicial review of her case.

Most of those who have had their citizenship removed have not been convicted of any crime and the judicial review would be to examine if the home secretary’s view to remove citizenship was a reasonable one to take.

Two people are known to have taken their citizenship deprivation cases to the Supreme Court. Iraqi-born Hilal al Jedda was stripped of his British citizenship in 2007, but it was restored in 2013 after a Supreme Court ruling. However, Theresa May, then Home Secretary, stripped him of his citizenship again just a month later.

Is her son a British citizen?

Ms Begum gave birth to a baby boy over the weekend before her citizenship was stripped, therefore he is a British citizen, said Professor Tufyal Choudhury, associate professor at Durham Law School. “He was born to a mother who was British and therefore he inherits her citizenship, even if she doesn't have it now.”

What about her claim to the Netherlands?

Ms Begum’s husband, Dutch convert Yago Riedijk is a citizen of The Netherlands, and she has expressed an interest in living there if she cannot return to the UK. However, the same difficulties she would face securing citizenship to Bangladesh would apply to the Netherlands.

What does the decision mean for the wider UK?

In 2016, 14 people had their British citizenship withdrawn compared to 104 in 2017, in measures that were considered “conducive to the public good”, according to a government report released last year. Professor Choudhury said the current legislation effectively creates two tiers of citizenship. One group, with no possibility of obtaining another country’s citizenship would be secure, while others who could potentially become a national of another country become more vulnerable.

Updated: February 20, 2019 08:31 PM

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