UK Politics

Mahdi Hashi: How easy is it to lose British citizenship?

Mahdi Hashi
Image caption Mahdi Hashi was given a British passport when his family came to Britain from Somali

British citizenship used to be for life - but a growing number of people are being stripped of their passports. BBC Radio 4's Law in Action programme investigates.

The father of a man facing terrorism charges in New York has accused the government of taking away his son's British citizenship in order to avoid the need for extradition proceedings.

Mahdi Hashi, 23, was given a British passport after he was brought to Britain from Somalia with his family nearly 20 years ago.

He was in Somalia last summer when the Home Office told his parents his citizenship had been taken away from him.

Just before Christmas, US prosecutors said Mahdi Hashi had been flown to New York by the FBI and charged with providing material support to al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab.

"My son has been abandoned by the British authorities," his father, Mohamed Hashi, told Law in Action.

"It's easier for them just to pass him to the Americans instead of extraditing him later on."

Home Office figures, released to Law in Action in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, show 16 people have been stripped of their British citizenship in the past three years.

'A privilege, not a right'

During the previous three years, only three people had their UK passports taken away from them.

"There has been no public outrage at the introduction of simple, near-arbitrary deprivation of British citizenship, even for the British-born," says Caroline Sawyer, a senior lecturer in law at Victoria University of Wellington, in the Journal of Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law.

British citizenship used to be close to irrevocable for those born in Britain, but that is no longer true.

Under section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981, as amended in 2006, the home secretary may make an order depriving a person of citizenship status if they are "satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good". No reasons need be given and no court approval is required.

Image caption Mohamed Hashi said the family was worried for his son's safety and wellbeing

There is a right of appeal.

But Amanda Weston, a barrister who practises in immigration law, told Law in Action the Home Office often waited until individuals were outside the UK before depriving them of their citizenship. Challenging the decision from abroad could be difficult, especially if issues of national security were involved.

Ms Weston said the home secretary could not take away a person's citizenship if that would leave the individual stateless.

But the barrister said it was not necessary for the person to hold another nationality before losing UK citizenship, provided they were deemed eligible to seek a passport from another country.

Conservative MP and barrister Robert Buckland told the programme that decisions to deprive people of their citizenship were not taken lightly.

Extraditing the terrorist suspect Abu Hamza al-Masri to the US had cost the taxpayer a considerable amount of money, he added.

And the Home Office told Law in Action that citizenship was "a privilege, not a right".

But Mahdi Hashi's experience shows how easily that privilege can be taken away.

Listen to the full report on Law in Action on Thursday, 14 March at 20:00 GMT, via the Radio 4 website or the Law in Action podcast.

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