Powers to strip people of British citizenship – as used against the teenage Isis recruit Shamima Begum – should be restricted to prevent the measures being abused for political point-scoring, the Liberal Democrats will argue.
Under the British Nationality Act 1981, the home secretary has the power to deprive a British citizen of their citizenship if either their citizenship has been obtained through fraud or the the secretary of state “is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good”.
The use of the power has risen sharply in recent years. No one was deprived of their British citizenship between 1973 and 2002 but its use escalated from four cases in 2014 and five in 2015 to 14 in 2016 and 104 in 2017.
High-profile individuals who have been deprived of their citizenship include Begum, a British-born woman who left the UK in February 2015, aged 15, to join Isis, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, alleged members of the so-called Beatles cell within Isis, a group of British jihadists responsible for the execution of hostages, and the Muslim convert Jack Letts, who is suspected of leaving Britain to join the terror group.
Christine Jardine, the home affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, will call for an overhaul of the powers to introduce a requirement by the home secretary to apply to a court to revoke citizenship.
A shake-up of the policy would stop the power being used on anyone who was a British citizen at birth, such as Begum, and a requirement that the best interests of any child affected must be taken into account. Begum reportedly had three children after she fled to Syria, all of whom died.
Jardine, who will move the motion at the party’s conference in Bournemouth, said: “The decision to strip someone of their citizenship is a very serious one and should only be taken when absolutely necessary. Instead, we have seen Conservative home secretaries abuse this power for political gain with tragic results.
“These are people brought up, often born here, with families and loved ones who deserve a government that will take responsibility when they are radicalised and go abroad to join terrorists. They should be prosecuted in the UK for their crimes and interrogated to learn exactly how this happens and prevent terrorists from recruiting more young Brits.
“Liberal Democrats demand better. We will introduce new safeguards so that home secretaries must show good reasons for revoking someone’s citizenship. We will also ensure that the best interests of any children involved are taken into account, and that no one is left stateless.”
The decision by the then home secretary, Sajid Javid, to strip Begum of her citizenship was met with broad criticism due to her age and apparent vulnerability.
A Church of England bishop and a former director of public prosecutions led the chorus of outrage directed at Javid as demand grew for him to review his controversial decision to strip the 19-year-old of British citizenship. The move is being challenged by Begum’s family in the courts.
The parents of Letts, who was a dual Canadian national, called Javid’s decision to strip their son of his British citizenship “cowardly”. The couple were convicted in June this year of funding terrorism after sending their son £223.
The Lib Dem motion also calls on the UK to ratify the 1997 European convention on nationality, which prevents states from making people stateless unless their citizenship was obtained through fraud.
The Lib Dem motion calls for the power to be restricted to to naturalised citizens only in cases of fraud or when the individuals or when the individual “has done something seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, and deprivation of citizenship is a proportionate response to such conduct and necessary for the national security of the United Kingdom”.
The party also wants the government to publish annual reports on its use of this power, and the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation to review its use at least once every three years.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Decisions on depriving a dual national of citizenship are based on substantial advice from officials, lawyers and the intelligence agencies and all available information. This power is one way we can counter the terrorist threat posed by some of the most dangerous individuals and keep our country safe.”