Harry and Meghan’s British citizenship should not be up for debate
The government is slyly misusing their powers to remove citizenship and using the veil of populism to justify this abuse. It is time to curtail these powers, no matter who they are applied to.
Should the UK strip Harry and Meghan of their citizenship? That was the serious matter of public policy raised by Mike Graham of TalkRADIO last week in light of the couple’s high-profile interview on the Royal Family. “Surely, this kind of attack on our most-treasured tradition must mean ‘Haz and Megz’ are no longer members of this great nation of ours.”
TalkRADIO saw fit to post a poll on their social media and see what the wider world thought.
Fittingly, it came just a week after a Supreme Court ruling on Shamima Begum – a young British woman who joined Islamic State and then was made stateless through a ministerial order.
A royal couple in California and a terrorist’s widow in Syria have little in common. There is, however, a thread that runs between them, in threats and actions to remove citizenship, and to move people outside the circle of our shared society. If we believe in the rule of law, then we must challenge the idea that citizenship is a privilege that can be removed on a whim.
This is no niche issue – step out of line and it could happen to you. The law as it stands gives enormous power to the Home Secretary to remove citizenship rights, and Conservative ministers have been using and abusing this power more and more in recent years. Under the British Nationality Act, people can be stripped of their citizenship on the basis that their presence in the UK is “not conducive to the public good” – a condition that is about as broad as you can get.
This unilateral action by the state can be reversed. Unlike in criminal proceedings, however, you are effectively guilty until proven innocent. Your citizenship is forfeit unless and until you succeed in challenging the order – and the presumption of right goes to the government.
If our rights as citizens are so easily taken away then they are not rights at all, merely the privileges we cling onto for good behaviour
Many people offend common decency every day in this country. Many people commit real crimes, big and small, every day in this country. The people who commit these crimes are often very unpleasant or dangerous individuals. They remain, however, human beings, as much as the rest of us. They are our responsibility and we cannot simply wash our hands of them or make our people someone else’s problem.
Shamima Begum was born in the UK as a British citizen – she should face justice in the UK as well. Her actions, however much we abhor them, do not change the facts.
If citizenship is only for the “good” and the “acceptable” based on the popular will then it is a dangerous path for us all. Liberalism and human rights are not the core tenets of our country because they are popular. Doing the right thing is often unpopular – but the choice of right and wrong is not a popularity contest.
The government is slyly misusing their powers to remove citizenship and using the veil of populism to justify this abuse. They see citizenship and basic human rights as an obstacle to overcome, rather than as the bedrock of our country. We should be demanding better of our leaders, for the sake of our country and our future. It is time to curtail these powers, no matter who they are applied to.
A radio host calling for a couple who offend national sensibilities to become Orwellian “unpersons” is no more than the logical extension of the Shamima Begum case. If our rights as citizens are so easily taken away then they are not rights at all, merely the privileges we cling onto for good behaviour.
Good behaviour, however, is not supposed to be the measure of citizenship.
In the event, Twitter voters declared that “Haz and Megz” should be allowed to keep their citizenship, despite their crimes against the nation. We will all sleep a little better, however, if our rights as citizens are no longer a matter that is up for debate.
Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Home Affairs.