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UK: Nationality and Borders Bill 'unconstitutional' say lawyers

Migrants are brought into Dover docks by Border Force staff on September 9, 2021 in Dover, England. [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]
Migrants are brought into Dover docks by Border Force staff on September 9, 2021 in Dover, England. [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

Britain's highly controversial Nationality and Borders Bill has been slammed as "unconstitutional" by expert immigration lawyers. The bill has been approved by the House of Commons and is currently in the committee stage in the House of Lords. If it is passed into law, it will give the home secretary — the UK's Interior Minister — the right to revoke British citizenship without warning from those born overseas.

Critics have also denounced the bill as racist, arguing that it creates a two-tier citizenship. London-based advocacy group CAGE and Media Diversified have been working with the Good Law Project to obtain a legal opinion on such concerns. The opinion was commissioned from some of the country's leading barristers, Raza Husain QC, Jason Pobjoy and Eleanor Mitchell, as instructed by Leigh Day solicitors.

Their opinion is that clause 9 of the bill gives the home secretary "an exorbitant, ill-defined and unconstitutional power" to remove British citizenship without notice. The provisions, the lawyers say, will have "a disproportionate impact on non-white British citizens." This could affect the citizenship of almost half of all British Asians, and two in five Black Britons.

The proposed new powers are "identified in terms so broad and vague that, and on their face, they do very little to constrain the exercise of the Secretary of State's discretion," say the legal experts. They noted that even without clause 9, "The United Kingdom already has significantly more power to deprive an individual of their citizenship than any other G20 country." They describe the clause as "astonishingly unjust".

A spokesperson for Media Diversified commented: "Up to six million people will live in fear that one wrong move, even just one unforced error or car accident could see us arrested, judged in secret and deported. This targeted, racist legislation is an existential threat to all our loved ones, neighbours and colleagues."

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Meanwhile, in a related issue, former Guantanamo Bay prisoner and current Outreach Director for CAGE, Moazzam Begg, has launched judicial review proceedings against the Home Office's alleged abuse of power by denying him a passport for the past eight years. Begg has had his passport seized by the authorities three times in 17 years. On each occasion, no evidence was ever produced to justify this punitive action. The Home Office already possesses the power to deny a person a passport arbitrarily, but clause 9 of the new bill, critics argue, will increase that power and give the home secretary the power to deny citizenship with complete impunity.

"I've been held without charge in three military prisons, arrested three times by counter terror police and had my passport revoked three times over the past two decades," explained Begg. "And yet, I have never been convicted of any crimes or had my day in court. I conclude that a combination of malice, indifference and gross incompetence has led the government to this point, but it's enough. It's time to fight back, again."

Broadcaster, journalist and author Yvonne Ridley called on the British Government to end the "harassment" of Moazzam Begg. "It makes the UK look incredibly weak to target him in this manner. A passport is not a privilege, it is a right, so do the right thing and return his passport and move on. This persecution he is enduring is the sort of thing that evil and brutal regimes do."

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