British terror suspects could be stripped of their passports and citizenship following a last-minute change to the Immigration Bill by the Home Secretary. The new amendment, a sop to Tory backbenchers desperate for more punitive legislation, was tabled by Theresa May on Wednesday, and would allow for the removal of a UK passport for any suspect whose actions are deemed “seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK”.
Has May added the last-minute amendment in an attempt to head off a Tory rebellion?
Under current legislation, the Home Secretary can already withdraw British citizenship from anyone with dual nationality, howe ver, the amendment would give May the power to make people stateless regardless of any naturalisation as a British citizen.
The move drew immediate condemnation, most notably from director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti, who said: "Liberty always said that terror suspects should be charged and tried. First politicians avoided trials for foreign nationals; now they seek the same for their own citizens."
The campaigner added: "This move is as irresponsible as it is unjust. It would allow British Governments to dump dangerous people on the international community, but equally to punish potential innocent political dissenters without charge or trial. There is the edge of populist madness and then the abyss."
The Immigration Bill is scheduled to return to the Commons on Thursday evening, with May and David Cameron braced for a backbench revolt.
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Human rights campaigners branded the move an "alarming development" giving the Home Secretary power to "tear up people's passports without any need for the kind of due process". But the Home Office insisted powers to make British citizens stateless will be used sparingly and in strict accordance with the UK's international obligations.
Immigration Minister Mark Harper said: "Those who threaten this country's security put us all at risk. This Government will take all necessary steps to protect the public. Citizenship is a privilege, not a right. These proposals will strengthen the Home Secretary's powers to ensure that very dangerous individuals can be excluded if it is in the public interest to do so."
One of the most high-profile cases involving statelessness concerns Hilal al-Jedda, who fled from Iraq to the UK in 1992 as a refugee from Saddam Hussein's regime. He won asylum and in 2000 was granted British nationality. However, he returned to Iraq in 2004 where he came under suspicion of involvement in terrorism and in 2007 was stripped of his British nationality.
Al-Jedda, who now lives in Turkey, has since been fighting against the move through a series of legal appeals.
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In October last year, Supreme Court judges ruled that it was illegal to make him stateless. However, despite this ruling, the Home Secretary stripped al-Jedda of his UK citizenship for a second time in December last year. A spokesman for legal charity Reprieve said: "This is a very alarming development, which reverses a long-standing ban on citizenship-stripping where doing so would leave someone stateless.
"It would give the Home Secretary the power to tear up people's passports without any need for the kind of due process we might once have expected as British citizens. The concern is that this is all part of the wider excesses of the US-led 'war on terror': once someone has been rendered stateless, it becomes much easier to subject them to execution by drone, without the inconvenience of legal consequences."
The Prime Minister has reportedly been seeking to minimise a rebellion by reassuring backbenchers he shares their concerns, but has appealed for them to allow legislation to proceed uninhibited. Around 70 Conservative backbenchers have signed a tweaked amendment to the legislation, originally tabled by Nigel Mills MP, which calls on the Government to reinstate restrictions on migrants from Romania and Bulgaria working in Britain until the end of 2018.
A further 100 MPs have come out in support of a move by Tory MP Dominic Raab to completely block foreign criminals appealing against deportation by claiming a right to a ''family life'' in the UK. Mills, Conservative MP for Amber Valley, attempted to have labour market restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians extended before they were lifted on January 1.
Cameron rushed through new measures to ensure EU migrants are unable to claim out-of-work benefits for their first three months in the UK - but this was not enough to satisfy Mr Mills and his backers. However, the MP has lost the significant support of influential backbencher Douglas Carswell MP, who despite having signed the amendment announced on his blog he would no longer vote for it.
Meanwhile, Raab's amendment would see the Home Secretary - rather than the courts - have the final say on whether an offender's family links are strong enough to allow them to avoid deportation. Foreign criminals who can prove they face torture, ill-treatment or death in their home country will still be able to overturn deportation orders under separate human rights measures.
More than 200 foreign criminals successfully challenge deportation on human rights grounds every year with around 90% relying on the ''right to private and family life'' set out under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron signalled that he shared backbenchers' frustration with the use of Article 8 and urged them not to delay the passage of the Bill.He said: ''We need to correct - and we will correct in the Immigration Bill - the fact that it is so difficult to deport people who don't have a right to be here and should be facing trial overseas or should be deported overseas but make spurious arguments about the right to a family life. 'It is right that we are changing that. There is nothing anti-European about it. It's a very sensible step that this Government is taking and we should pass the Immigration Bill with all speed.''