Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


For, in spite of all temptations

to belong to other nations

he remains an Englishman.”

Bringing together my posts from last year about cases of US citizens being expelled from or denied re-entry into their country, with my recent remarks on a senior UK politician’s suggestion that British citizens who fight with Islamists in Iraq and Syria have their citizenship revoked. This is of a piece with my earlier observations that xenophobic excesses which would be confined to the tub-thumping fringes in other countries, very quickly find resonance in the British political establishment, with the major parties falling over themselves not to be outflanked in expressing their hostility toward the alien.

To be fair, though, some moderately senior German politicians have made similar statements. The German constitution makes it absolutely explicit that citizenship cannot be revoked (except when a new citizenship is acquired, or when citizenship was acquired by fraud), which may make the belligerent exploitation of anti-Islamist chauvinism in these terms more or less despicable, depending on your perspective. (The US constitution is slightly less explicit, but reasonably clear on the subject.) By contrast, the UK — lacking both a written constitution and the clarifying experience of Nazi and Communist dictatorships — clearly makes revocation of citizenship a live option: 20 British dual nationals had their citizenship revoked last year, and the law — originally a 2006 Labour government product — was recently amended to allow the Home Secretary to deprive even single-nationals of their citizenship, rendering them stateless, showing blatant contempt for the 1961 UN Convention on Statelessness.

The only requirement for a naturalised British citizen — which includes many people born in the UK — to be deprived of his or her citizenship is that

the Secretary of State is satisfied that the deprivation is conducive to the public good.

Of course, “public good” is a pretty flexible concept, particularly when the Home Office is required to present neither an explanation nor evidence, and invariably takes the step when the individual is travelling outside the country, sending the notification to the home address in the UK (from which the person is known to be absent), allowing 28 days for appeal. Certainly the Nazi Home Secretary was satisfied that allowing Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann to return home would not be conducive to the public good. The GDR had the same trick of revoking citizenship when troublesome individuals were temporarily out of the country.

Lest anyone think the UK is recapitulating the march of tyranny, though, the Home Secretary has promised that this power will be used “sparingly”. That should be enough of a bulwark against fascism to satisfy anyone. And unlike the Nazi law on deprivation of citizenship, property is not confiscated, so it’s something completely different.

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