Though I was born in Parsons Green, my father grew up in Pakistan, which acknowledges citizenship by descent. That means the home secretary could annul my Britishness, without even telling me, on the strength of a foreign entitlement I wouldn’t know what to do with. Apologists for executive discretion often argue that the innocent needn’t worry, but that complacent assumption misses the point. It isn’t only the notional risk of a despotic home secretary that’s disturbing. It’s the injustice of knowing that most citizens face no risk at all.
Marc Lopez and his wife have four grandchildren, aged between two and ten, who have been detained with their mother in a camp in north-east Syria for nearly three years. There are around eighty French women and two hundred children detained in camps in Rojava, the Kurdish-controlled region near the Iraqi border. All the women, alleged to have joined Islamic State, are wanted on an international arrest warrant issued by French magistrates. On 21 February, a dozen of them began a hunger strike ‘to protest against the stubborn refusal of the French authorities to organise their repatriation and the repatriation of their children’, according to a statement issued by their solicitors, Marie Dosé and Ludovic Rivière. They say the women ‘are only asking for one thing: to be put on trial for what they have done’.
The Life in the UK handbook boasts that Britain ‘became the largest empire the world has ever seen’ with railways ‘built throughout’, producing ‘more than half of the world’s iron, coal and cotton cloth’ (nothing on who provided the labour and who died doing so, or where the cotton came from) while reformers ‘led movements to improve conditions of life for the poor’. It goes on to say that ‘some people began to question whether the Empire could continue’ but gives no information on colonial resistance or movements for independence, or the work of Black abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano, Joseph Knight and Samuel Sharpe (or if anyone questioned whether it should continue).
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, has revoked Shamima Begum’s British citizenship. Begum left the UK with two friends four years ago, at the age of 15, to join Daesh. She now finds herself stateless, with a newborn and possibly British baby in a Syrian refugee camp. Public sympathy in the UK has been limited. Begum has said she wasn’t ‘fazed’ by the sight of severed heads in bins, and suggested that the Manchester Arena bombing was payback for airstrikes against Daesh territory. She has regrets, but little remorse. Still, she was born and grew up in the UK, and when she left as a child she had been groomed online by a criminal organisation.
The use of an administrative process to strip Begum of her nationality sets a worrying precedent, if you value the rule of law and are concerned that citizens be protected from tyranny.
Times are tough for the wealthy, with the taxman in hot pursuit of those hard-earned millions. But if you have them, and the right consultant, you can get around a little local difficulty by acquiring residency status in a country that’s proud to count you in and eventually make you a citizen. Belgium for example: a moneybags who went for the Belgian option would probably get citizenship within three to seven years of residency.