Hundreds of people have been stripped of their British citizenship in the last 15 years, according to research, including one man who was stateless for almost five years.
Research carried out by Free Movement, a website run by lawyers to provide information for those affected by immigration control, has found that at least 464 people have had their citizenship removed since the law permitting this practice was relaxed 15 years ago.
The government does not routinely publish the total number of people it strips of British citizenship.
CJ McKinney, of Free Movement, said the lack of figures from the Home Office was frustrating: “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.”
One of the most well known cases is that of Shamima Begum, who was deprived of her citizenship after leaving the UK as a 15-year-old schoolgirl to join Islamic State, and lost her battle to have it restored in February 2021.
McKinney found that since 2006, 175 people have been deprived of their citizenship on national security grounds, and 289 because of fraud. Prior to 2006 the power had not been used since 1973.
McKinney said he compiled the information from historic freedom of information requests and “obscure statistical publications”.
A power to deprive someone of British citizenship goes back to 1914 but in recent years the legal test about when it can be used has been watered down. Between 2006 and 2010 there were nine cases, according to freedom of information data. But by 2017 numbers had peaked at 148 people who had their citizenship removed that year. In 2018 there were 73 cases, in 2019 82 cases, and in 2020 42 cases.
In one case revealed by the Observer this week, a 40-year-old man, referred to only as E3, was stripped of his British citizenship in 2017. He was born in London to parents of Bangladeshi heritage, but had his citizenship removed when he flew to Bangladesh.
He was told he was an “Islamist extremist who had previously sought to travel abroad to participate in terrorism-related activity”. He has never been arrested or questioned in relation to these claims, nor has he been provided with any evidence which substantiates these claims.
His citizenship was reinstated after the Home Office accepted he is stateless as a result of having his British citizenship taken away from him.
The case highlights the human cost of this power that the Home Office hopes to further strengthen in its controversial nationality and borders bill, which will no longer require notice to be given before taking away someone’s British citizenship.
The man’s lawyer, Fahad Ansari of Duncan Lewis solicitors, said: “Depriving people of their citizenship means stripping away their identity, their sense of belonging and their ability to seek protection. As such, it is wrong in principle. That injustice is only compounded when it is carried out without any prior judicial oversight and based on secret evidence which the individual and his lawyers will never see.
“Rather than further strengthening the home secretary’s powers by removing the requirement to give notice, the government should be scrapping the deprivation power altogether.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office is committed to publishing its transparency report into the use of disruptive powers and will do so in due course.
“Removing British citizenship has been possible for over a century, and is used against those who have acquired citizenship by fraud, and against the most dangerous people, such as terrorists, extremists and serious organised criminals.”