At least 464 people have been stripped of their British citizenship in the last 15 years. Research by Free Movement, the website run by the immigration barrister Colin Yeo, has found that 175 people had their citizenship revoked on national security grounds, and 289 people for fraud. Prior to this no one had been deprived of their British citizenship since 1975.
The Home Office doesn’t routinely publish statistics on the revocation of citizenship; the report pieces together data from historic freedom of information requests and ‘obscure statistical publications’, and national security reports. CJ McKinney, editor at Free Movement, criticised the lack of Home Office records: ‘This is an extremely serious punishment that amounts to being banished from the UK in many cases. Saying how often existing citizenship deprivation powers are used is the bare minimum of transparency that parliament and the public should expect.’
There have been legal grounds to deprive someone of their citizenship since 1914, though the modern grounds are found in the British Nationality Act 1981. This legislation essentially stated British citizens by birth could not be deprived of their citizenship. An amendment to the law in 2002 substantially watered down the legal test for deprivation and removed the protection against deprivation for those born British. Current legislation states that: ‘The Secretary of State may by order deprive a person of a citizenship status if the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good.’
This power has come under further scrutiny in the context of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which would give the Home Office the power to strip someone of their citizenship without notice. The Home Secretary has said this power would be used only in ‘exceptional circumstances’ against those who pose the greatest risk to the UK. A legal opinion written by the law firm Leigh Day and published by the Good Law Project found that clause 9 of the bill, which removes the requirement for the Home Secretary to notify an individual when stripping them of British citizenship, was ‘exorbitant, ill-defined and unconstitutional’ and at odds with both common law obligations and obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The new bill was passed by MPs in December and is due to reach Committee Stage in the Lords by the end of this month.