The nationality and borders bill has been passed by the Commons, with 298 MPs in support and 231 against, giving the government a majority of 67 votes on its controversial overhaul of the immigration system.
Commentators have warned that the bill, which passed its third reading today, will create a “second-tier category of citizenship” by giving the government powers to strip a “naturalised” person – someone who secured citizenship after immigrating to the UK – of their citizenship without notice.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 allowed the government to strip someone of their British citizenship as long as they had another nationality. The Immigration Act 2014 allowed ministers to revoke a person’s citizenship even if it made them stateless, as long as they could apply for another nationality.
Under this Act, ministers were required to ‘serve notice’ to an individual by sending a letter to their last known address. But by using a regulation that did not have to be debated in parliament, the Home Office was empowered earlier this year to serve notice by putting a copy of it on the person’s file.
After a High Court case this summer, however, it was ruled that this technique did not adequately constitute serving notice. Clause nine of the new bill will allow the government to revoke citizenship without any notice where it would not be “reasonably practicable” or in the interests of “national security”.
The bill also retrospectively authorises the actions the Home Office took before the High Court ruling, saying that a failure to comply with the duty “does not affect, and is to be treated as never having affected, the validity of the order.”
Office of National Statistics data suggests that nearly six million people in England and Wales could be affected by the change, including two in every five people from non-white ethnic minorities compared to one in 20 white people.
This figure includes almost 410,000 dual nationals born in the UK, as well as 5.2 million people born abroad. These 5.2 million people could potentially be stripped of their citizenship even where doing so would render them stateless.
Campaigners and MPs have raised concerns over the impact on human rights. A report from Freedom From Torture concluded that the legislation being pushed through by the government “represents the biggest legal assault on international refugee law ever seen in the UK”.
MPs rejected, by 293 to 234, an amendment that would have exempted victims of modern slavery, exploitation or trafficking from many of the provisions in part five of the bill if they were under 18 when they became a victim. They also voted down, by 288 votes to 236, an attempt to create a new offence of human trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Critics say the bill exacerbates the problem of modern slavery and puts new limits on support for victims of it. The legislation specifically shortens the period during which support must be provided to a 30-day recovery only.
Government ministers have described the controversial legislation as “the cornerstone of the government’s ‘new plan for immigration’, delivering the most comprehensive reform in decades to fix the broken asylum system”.
The bill returned to parliament on Tuesday amid renewed scrutiny following the increasing number of people crossing the English Channel in recent weeks, with over 25,000 refugees arriving via the dangerous sea route so far this year.
More than 1,000 people arrived in a single day for the first time in November this year, and ministers came under increased pressure after 27 people tragically lost their lives in the deadliest crossing on record two weeks ago.