Britain’s decision to revoke the citizenship of Shamima Begum on Tuesday has received both support and condemnation and is now expected to be contested in a legal challenge.
The UK, in particular, has trodden this path before. The home secretary is currently embroiled in a legal battle with another Briton stripped of his citizenship, which begs the question; Can Shamima Begum be stripped of hers?
The UK’s interior minister Sajid Javid sent mixed signals on Monday.
“Where it is deemed a threat, we are able to deprive people of their nationalities,” Javid told parliament, before announcing a seemingly contradictory slither of hope for nationals abroad in Syria.
“So long as they are still UK citizens, they have a right to return. But even in that case, it’s possible to place certain restrictions by removing passports or documents that place control on ports of entry.”
Javid’s decision to strip Begum of her nationality is based on the belief that she is a dual national.
However, it is understood that both Begum’s parents hold dual nationality with Bangladesh, while the 19-year-old is a British-born citizen.
Begum’s family lawyer Tasnime Akunjee said Begum has never had a Bangladeshi passport and isn’t a dual citizen.
Rendering people stateless by taking away their only form of citizenship violates international law, according to a barrister who has previously reviewed terrorism legislation.
“Those born as British citizens who are not dual nationals cannot be stripped of their citizenship in any circumstances,” David Anderson QC told the UK's Press Association.
Who holds power?
Critics of the decision say it is up to courts and the judiciary, not politicians, to revoke citizenship.
Javid says he is relying on a section of the British Nationality Act 1981, which states that he can take away a person’s citizenship “if the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good”.
The home secretary could tout the idea that Begum has the possibility of applying for a Bangladeshi passport in order to justify his decision.
Home Secretary vs The Beatle
It’s not the first time that the UK has stripped someone of their citizenship.
Shafee El Sheikh, an alleged British ISIS member, part of a group of fighters dubbed "the Beatles" because of their English accents, had his British citizenship revoked in 2014.
According to UK High Court papers, El Sheikh is accused of the murder of three American and two British nationals.
Britain wants to extradite El Sheikh to the US to face trial, where he could face execution.
El Sheikh’s mother, who has taken up a legal battle against the Home Secretary, said that putting him on trial in the US would violate European Union laws as the death penalty is banned across the bloc.
In May 2018, Javid wrote to then-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to confirm that Britain would help with a US prosecution and said the UK would not seek assurances for the death penalty to be avoided.
The letter sparked a backlash from MPs who accused him of breaking the UK’s long-standing opposition to the death penalty, which it abolished in 1965.
On February 14, the UK’s High Court paved the way for El Sheikh’s family to appeal to the Supreme Court and said that Britain’s Home Secretary must provide no further intelligence to the US about El Sheikh until the Supreme Court’s decision on whether to take the case or not.
There is a likelihood that Begum’s case will be put forward to the courts in the same vein as the "Home Secretary vs The Beatle" case.
Begum may not need to battle for citizenship for her newborn son, Jarrah.
Speaking to the House of Commons on Wednesday, Javid said he believed that "children should not suffer" on account of the actions of parents.
"If a parent loses their British citizenship, it does not affect the rights of their child," he added.
The family now has 28 days from the day on which they received the letter from the Home Office (Tuesday) to push an appeal forward.