S2 E1 What does the Nationality and Borders Act mean for British citizenship?
Michaela Benson [MB]: Welcome to Who Do We Think We Are? – a podcast exploring some of the lesser-known stories of British citizenship. I'm Michaela Benson, a sociologist specialising in citizenship, migration and belonging, and your host. Join me over the course of the series, as I debunk some of the taken-for-granted understandings of citizenship and examine how this changes our understandings of some of the most pressing issues of our times.
Trent Lamont Miller [TLM]: I mean, where is this incredible sense of British fair play? There should not be no levels of being British. You're either are or you either not! This just makes no sense. Just because my British BOTC father did not marry my foreign-born mother I am made to feel unwelcome and less than? I think not.
MB: That was Trent Lamont Miller, talking about what it feels like to be denied the right to British citizenship, just because his father was not married to his mother at the time of his birth. With Dave Varney, he set up the British Overseas Territories Citizens Campaign. They've been pressuring the UK Government to correct the historic injustice that has meant that the children born overseas and outside of marriage to British Overseas Territory Citizens were not entitled to the nationality status of their parents. Notably, this is a population that is almost exclusively made up of people of colour. We'll be hearing more from him and Dave, later in the episode. But first, I want to welcome you back to Season #2 of Who Do We Think We Are?. We took quite a break over the past few months, which gave us the opportunity to rest and to reflect on where we got to and what we wanted to do going forwards. You may have spotted that we've introduced a companion series called Beyond The Headlines. I'm absolutely thrilled to be hosting this was my friend and colleague, Dr Ala Sirriyeh, who works with me in the Department of Sociology at Lancaster University. And this companion series is exactly what it says on the tin. We dissect some of the major news headlines about migration today in conversation with our guests. In our first episode released on the 13th of May 2022, we took a deep dive into the headlines about Ukrainian refugees with Dr Yvonne Su. We're releasing episodes of Beyond The Headlines monthly, and if you follow Who Do We Think We Are? on your preferred podcasting app, these will show up in your feed too. We also took the decision to slow down on more narrative episodes, so that they only come out once a month. They really do take quite some time to produce, so we wanted to give ourselves a bit of breathing space. But the good news is we've got episodes in the works on how the development of citizenship is related to global social inequalities, protest and resistance, and European citizenship. We've also made a little change to the format of "back to the archive". Now, I know that George has some fans out there, and I wanted to take the opportunity to give him a little more room in these episodes, to elaborate on the material that he uncovers in the archives. And that brings us back to this episode. You'll remember that at the end of Season #1 I got a bit preoccupied with the Nationality and Borders Bill. We talked about Clause 9 and citizenship deprivation, and how the descendants of the Chagos islanders were denied the right to citizenship. On the 28th of April 2022, after significant ping-ponging between the House of Lords and the House of Commons in the UK, the Nationality and Borders Bill was granted royal assent. This means that its contents moved from being a proposal to being primary legislation as the Nationality and Borders Act. Today's episode is devoted entirely to that Act. And because it's a big piece of legislation, this is a big episode! And I've brought in several guests to help me examine some of the changes it introduces to UK legislation. First up, Dave Varney joins Trent and I, to talk more about the campaign that led to new provisions being introduced into the UK's nationality legislation to allow the children born overseas to unmarried British parents to register as British citizens. I've got an explainer that briefly introduces the Nationality and Borders Bill. George goes back into the archive to uncover how Margaret Thatcher responded behind the scenes to the calls for the UK to resettle Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s. And I speak with Fizza Qureshi, CEO of Migrants' Rights Network, about her concerns about the new Act, how the foundations for this have been a long time in the making, and how this makes migrants and refugees even more vulnerable in British society today. Before I hand the mic over to Trent and Dave, I just wanted to give you a bit of a reminder of the history that led to the development of British Overseas Territories citizenship. We discussed this in detail in Season #1, Episode #10 as part of the backstory to the British Indian Oceans territories citizenship campaign. So, here, I'm just going to go over the headlines again. The British Nationality Act of 1981 introduced the distinction between British citizens, who had the right to abode in the UK, and British Dependent Territories citizens, who did not have this right. And what this meant is that those British Dependent Territories citizens who wanted to live and work in the UK had to apply for the right to reside in the UK. In other words, they had to go through immigration control to live and settle in the UK. But then, in 2002, with the passing of a new Act – the British Overseas Territories Act – those with British Dependent Territories citizenship status were reclassified as British Overseas Territories citizens. And those holding this new status were entitled to register as full British citizens with the rights to live in the UK. But their children, specifically those born overseas and outside marriage, did not get this right. Let's hear a little bit more from Dave about how Trent's experiences and the issues that it highlighted led to the British Overseas Territories Citizenship Campaign.
Dave Varney [DV]: The original focus of the campaign was on the case of a child born overseas who wanted British nationality, who were not married to their non-British mothers who were eligible to claim British nationality before first of July 2006. So, this is a very personal story. And it is really about Trent's request for recognition as a British Overseas Territories citizen and also a British citizenship.
MB: I wondered if you could just reflect a little bit more here. And I mean, this is where it gets a bit tricky, isn't it? Because what you're talking about is not people who had British citizenship, but people who held other statuses in British legislation that most people are not very knowledgeable of. So, for example, British Overseas Territories citizenship.
DV: Yes, that's right. Registration provisions were introduced for people born to unmarried British citizen fathers before first of July 2006, to be registered as citizens through Section 65 of the Immigration Act 2014. This provided for a person to register as a British citizen, if they would have required that status automatically under the British Nationality Act 1981 had their British mainland father been married to the mother of the child. Section 65 was introduced at a very late stage in the debates that led to the Immigration Act. And it was recognised that each Overseas Territory, you know, has its own immigration laws, and to create a route for people to become British Overseas Territories citizens – which could give them a right of abode in that territory – would require consultation with governors of the territories and the governments of each territory, which was not possible before the introduction of the Act. Corresponding provisions were, therefore, not included to include British Overseas Territories citizenship.
MB: The story behind your campaign is very personal for the two of you. So, maybe, Trent you can start by telling me a little bit more about it.
TLM: Well, my father was born in 1942 in the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat. I was born out of wedlock in New York in 1969 and had an American mother, and in 2009, I decided to explore applying for a British citizenship through my unmarried father. After pushing the Home Office I was told in no uncertain terms "No". The reason was given because British nationality law does not permit an unmarried BOTC father to pass down his citizenship, down to a child born before the first of July 2006. And I discovered that my half siblings born to our father, but to a different mother, would have no problem being BOTC as their parents were married. I'm the one left out in the cold, all because my parents did not ... could not marry. This is an unequal and unfair situation in my standards.
DV: I realised it was more than just about Trent, it was about other children too, other children of – black and brown children – of British Overseas Territories descent, who was shut out basically. And we soon realised that it wasn't just children born to British Overseas Territories fathers, it was also ... You know, before 1983, January 1st, women couldn't pass British nationality to children born outside the UK in colonies. And provisions to allow for children born before 1983 to British citizen mothers to be registered as British citizens was also introduced in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. But again, those provisions were not extended to black and brown BOTC mothers, and this was because the registration provisions were introduced to extend the concession announced in 1979 for the registration of children of UK-born mothers. The aim in 2002 was to cover those who would have been registered as children on that basis and that concession, but had not been applied in time. So, the criteria introduced that the person ... you know, if women could have passed on citizenship at that time, would have become a citizen of the UK and colonies and acquired the right of abode in the UK; aimed to cover all those who had maternal connections to the UK. The registration criteria were extended in legislation in 2009. But, as this was introduced as an unexpected Lords amendment, there really was no time to consult with the BOT governments about the implications of doing something like this for BOTCs, which would have possibly had an impact on territory migration,
MB: That kind of accounts, Dave, as ... you know, you've wonderfully explained it in lots of ways. But I mean, there's so many things about it that I've been learning as I've been doing this series around ... they just kind of leave me like mouth-wide-open. Like, you know, before 1983, women couldn't pass on their British nationality to children born outside the UK. I mean, this is like within ... this is within my lifetime, I'm proud to say.
MB: And, you know. And also, like, all of those weird things where ... it looks to me like the phrasing is obviously very deliberate legally, but the consequences of that phrasing exclude people in ways that sometimes it's anticipated sometimes isn't. And, so, you ended up with this real mess, essentially, of all sorts of things. And at the moment, you've been fighting to correct, you know, a mess that was years in the making, really. You're kind of unpacking and I'm picking a whole load of things.
DV: You know, it kind of opens up a Pandora's box. Because what's really clear about this, is that nationality law and immigration are often merged into one basket by the Home Office, and really, in their own right, they need to be treated as individual subjects and have separate treatments, even though immigration can lead to citizenship. But nationality law stands on its own. And it seems to be the case that, depending on the government in power at the time, laws, nationality laws are made, immigration laws are made, things are taken in, things are put out, things are changed. So, over the years, it's really become quite a mishmash of things, which is so unfair and unequal that ... at least our attempt to try and do our bit to correct this has hopefully been successful.
MB: Yeah, definitely. I think you've really captured that sense of this kind of patchworking together of different things, and kind of like putting plasters over holes in some respects – because of the mess that's been made earlier – that I wondered if you wanted to give a little bit of a precis of, to your mind, what the achievements were of this and the kind of inspiration that's kind of driven you on from that?
DV: In the beginning, it was hard to get anyone in power to even take notice of our campaign. You know, we flagged it many times up to the Home Office, the MPs, and you know, at the beginning there was no interest. It was very frustrating. You know, it was only until 2019 that two MPs of colour in parliament, Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Kim Johnson, noticed and offered their support. We've worked with the late Lord Eric Avebury, and we have very strong support from Baroness Ruth Lister. We've had strong connections and support from the UK Overseas Territories Association, who are the representatives of the different territories' governments in London, Janice Panton and Kimberley Durrant. Any of UK OTA, you know, really got the issue; they saw it and they saw the discrimination that was still there against British Overseas Territories' people of descent, and they use every opportunity to raise it with, you know, their own territories and the UK Government, and they went to bat for us. And, you know, I remember, right at the start of the campaign, we had some advice from Adrian Berry, the well-known nationality barrister. And he helped us great by giving us advice at the beginning. And eventually, people in parliament took notice, and eventually they came forward with a recognition that there were things to be corrected.
TLM: That's true.
MB: It's been a really long journey, hasn't it?
DV: Yeah, it really has. Yeah, it really, really has. I mean, there's so much more to it. You know, we've been brought up in the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Foreign Affairs Committee, and then, you know, in 2018, we got word from the Home Office Nationality Policy team that they were going to bring forth a solution. So, this is where we really are today.
MB: Yeah, that brings us right up to the present day, doesn't it? And I understand that the amendment related to your issues, it was passed in the House of Commons, wasn't it? It didn't have to wait till it got to the House of Lords.
DV: That's right. There was no, no objections. And it got to the Lords. And there was no objections for those particular few clauses at the beginning. But then, they went and added more complicated clauses, like Clause 9 at the end of it, which really has caused a lot of problems and a lot of unfairness. It seems like you're correcting injustices with one hand and slamming in further injustices with the other hand. So, it's not very logical to me.
MB: You know, Trent, I want to come back to you, because it must really have been quite incredulous to you that we're in 2021 and you're still in this situation where you're not entitled to this status. That, because you were born out of wedlock, you weren't entitled to your father's status. I mean, that just must be ... that is quite jaw dropping in lots of ways.
TLM: Indeed. In 1960 my father moved from Antigua to live and work in the UK without restriction – zero, zilch, nada. He was part of the latter flow of the Windrush people, and he worked hard and paid his taxes. He also remained in the UK until 1968, and then he went to study in the USA. In the early 1970s, he tried to return to the UK, but found that the nationality and immigration laws had changed, excluding many former-colony Commonwealth citizens. And they failed to recognise him as a person who already had a right of abode in the UK, effectively slamming a door in his face; he remained in the USA. All these years later, this homeland country is now shutting the door in the face of his child. How fair is that? I mean, where is this incredible sense of British fair play? There should not be no levels of being British. You're either are or you either not! This just makes no sense. Just because my British BOTC father did not marry my foreign-born mother I am made to feel unwelcome and less than? I think not. I don't, I don't think so. Every child has copies of both parents' DNA – they have two sides of the family tree – for the UK Government to take a pair of scissors and cut away one part of that DNA and family tree, and then say "you're not valid, you're not welcome, go away". It's deeply hurtful.
MB: I think that's really, you know ... you've really communicated really very clearly there, you know, the kind of the absolute fundamental inequality at the heart of this. It is ... I do find it ... I do still find it ... every time I hear it, I find it that it is unbelievable.
TLM: It's astounding actually, yeah.
DV: Yeah, absolutely astounding. You know, post-colony, post-Commonwealth or in the Commonwealth situation, and there is so much that the average person just doesn't get to understand. They're not aware of the discriminations, they're not aware of the inequalities, they're not aware of the unfairness. And, you know, that sort of discrimination is a spillover from the days of colonialism. And it has ... you know, this has undertones of the Windrush fiasco running all the way through it.
MB: Yeah. You're listening to Who Do We Think We Are? – a podcast all about British citizenship, hosted by me, Michaela Benson. If you like what you've heard, and you want to hear more, you can subscribe and rate us on your preferred podcast platform. The provisions included in the Nationality and Borders Bill to address this historic injustice passed unopposed. And, at the 11th hour, amendments were introduced to the bill, which meant that similar provisions could be put in place so that the descendants of the Chagos islanders were entitled to register as British citizens. And I know that Rosy and Jerome, who we spoke to in Episode #10 about the British Indian Oceans Territories citizens platform, were delighted with this news. But, it's fair to say that this is a bittersweet story. These measures to address historic injustices – injustices that, I might add, that almost exclusively impacted on people of colour – are sweeteners in the context of a raft of legislative changes that will introduce increasingly exclusionary measures aimed at controlling who can come to the UK and on what terms. And here's my explainer; it's really more of a recap, actually. The Nationality and Borders Act is wide-ranging in its scope. It will introduce changes to nationality and asylum legislation, and immigration control, among other things. And you might be asking, what do these things hold in common? Now, in terms of its scope, we've seen this before. It resembles other acts that we've discussed on Who Do We Think We Are?, including the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act of 2002, and the British Nationality Act of 1981. It's telling that such seemingly wide-ranging issues are so frequently considered alongside one another. And here I'm reminding of Rieko Karatani's argument that British citizenship is best understood as a form of immigration status. I'll put a link to her article in the Episode Notes. Now, before we hear from Fizza, let's head back into the archive with George. I couldn't help but notice that, although today's peace from the archive puts us in another time and another place, the story sounds eerily familiar. It's over to George to hear more.
GK: So, Michaela, I'm going to talk about a Guardian article from the 30th of December 2009, which gives some of the backstory to Britain's response in respect to those fleeing Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Now, the article draws on a Downing Street paper released by the National Archives, which, however, I was not able to locate. So, the report is titled "Margaret Thatcher reluctant to give boat people refuge in Britain". And it reads: "Margaret Thatcher initially refused to give 10,000 Vietnamese boat people refuge in Britain, privately warning her ministers that there would be riots on the streets, if they were given council housing."
MB: Now, I think that it's important here that we have a bit of a backstory to what's going on. So after the fall of Saigon, we see lots of people trying to leave Vietnam in small boats and crossing the South China Sea. And by July 1979, 60,000 people were in refugee camps in Hong Kong. And it's important to remember that it's 1979. So, we're like 18 years before the handover. So, before Hong Kong stops being a British colony. So, they're arriving on British soil, and they were continuing to arrive at a really high rate. Now, of course, because of migration policy, which stopped people entering the UK at the time, they're effectively stuck there. There are negotiations going on, not just involving Britain, but also involving some of the other European states, Australia and New Zealand about what the solution was to this, how to resettle these people. So, this is the conversation, the broader international conversation that was going on at this point in time. But George, can you just say a little bit on what Margaret Thatcher was thinking about this? Because this is really what the article shows, it kind of gives her behind the scenes revelation.
GK: Yes, exactly. And, I mean, the report goes on to say that Thatcher told her foreign secretary, Lord Carrington, and her home secretary, Willie Whitelaw, that it was, and I quote, "quite wrong that immigrants should be given council housing, whereas white citizens were not". And some other headlines from this report include that she had approached the Australian prime minister to buy an Indonesian or Philippine island where the refugees could resettle, basically. And that she had also suggested to Carrington and Whitelaw that those who were pressing the government to help the Vietnamese boat people "should be invited to accept one into their homes". And she also asked if they could not only simply be "shifted from one warehouse in Hong Kong to another in the UK". Any admission of these refugees would also have to be marched by a cut in the levels of immigration.
MB: I mean, this is just so fascinating in so many ways. We see that kind of idea that actually one solution might be for Britain to kind of outsource their refugees to another part of the world. So, resettle them somewhere else. And we're seeing tones of that; well, it's not tones, really ... it has the same overtone to it, really, to this new deal that the British government has struck with Rwanda, which, of course, had a previous articulation on exactly these terms: "can we find an island where we can put these refugees", for example. And I think that we also see here – and this is probably a story that deserves a lot more unpacking – but originally, when these people started to arrive in Hong Kong, they were being accommodated in decommissioned ships. They were setting up kind of temporary housing for themselves. And in time, the Hong Kong government, which of course was Britain at the time, put together these camps to house them, and the last of those councils decommissioned in 2002. So, really long time after Britain had handed Hong Kong back to China. But that gives you a sense of how long that resettlement process was, in lots of ways. But I think that you've got another convergence that you want to draw out there in respect to this point about, perhaps, British people should give up their homes or give space within their homes to these people.
GK: I mean, yes, in the ... I think we, like, in the report, we also see the elaboration of a discourse around Britain's response, which shows the retreat to the logic of humanitarianism, in driving decision making. So, the official minutes of the discussion point out that "the prime minister said that, on humanitarian grounds, she would much rather see the UK take in refugees than immigrants". And we can also see this, too, in the way that she framed other refugees as preferable. For example, The Guardian article reports that "she had far less objection to refugees, such as Rhodesians, Poles and Hungarians, since they could more easily be assimilated into British society". And, now, we see how a very similar thinking plays out today. Right? As well. In relation to Ukraine, which you've talked about in the previous episode, actually, Michaela. So, overall, I think all this seems oddly familiar in today's context. There are several parallels one could draw. And the other day I was reading how Priti Patel said that "it's been obvious for decades that our asylum system needs to change". And I was thinking, while I was reading this article from The Guardian, how it could be useful to consider how the policies that we see play out today have had an, often hidden, longer political history.
MB: I think that you're absolutely right there, George. And obviously Ukraine is a perfect example, or the British government's response to Ukraine is a perfect example. We see this idea of the kind of homes for Ukraine being presented as one way that the British public could help in this context. I won't go into, now, the controversy around that that's been kind of brewing. But simply understanding that the solutions that are being presented are nothing really new, that they have this longer history is, I think, important in trying to kind of make sense of what we're seeing unfolding in front of us in terms of the Nationality and Borders Bill. So, thank you very much.
GK: Thank you.
MB: These reflections from George on the resemblance between Margaret Thatcher's behind-the-scenes responses, about how the UK should manage Vietnamese refugees, and recent policy announcements by Priti Patel, about how the UK should manage Ukrainian refugees, and of course, the Rwanda deal, was not lost on me. Indeed, these recent responses by Priti Patel were a key theme in my conversation about the Nationality and Borders Act with Fizza Qureshi. Recorded within a few hours of this Act being granted royal assent, I started our conversation by asking her what concerns Migrants' Rights Network had about the Nationality and Borders Act.
Fizza Qureshi [FQ]: I kind of want to ... ha ... this is hysterical laughter, but it ... everything, it is everything about the Nationality and Borders bill. I think the only positive has been some of the amendments for the British territories overseas, you know, residents. But largely, it's just such an appalling bill. And I think, I think it's also a good reminder that this isn't ... this has come about, because we have had a number of other laws and policies that have allowed this to come into fruition basically. It's the ones that were laid before around hostile environment, they were focused in on tackling the "illegal immigration". And then you have this bill, which again, talks about tackling, quote-unquote, "illegal immigration" – we don't use, like, the word "illegal" at all. And then, this feels like the nail in the coffin, really, for so many migrant refugees who are here, or who want to come to the UK; who want to settle here, who want sanctuary here, who want to make it their home. We've been quite shocked at the ... yeah, the cruelty that's been displayed within this bill. And now that it's going to be law, it just, frankly, I just ... it's more about us staying strong for those who are at the sharp end of these policies and laws, making sure that we're standing in solidarity with them. And that means taking it to the courts where we can, or taking it to the streets where it's necessary.
MB: I can hear the sadness actually, in your voice, that this bill has passed. And I do share that sadness alongside you. But I think that, as you say, it's really important to focus on how this bill has come about after a decade of the hostile environment. And actually, before that, a set of measures, which increasingly kind of made the UK, I would say, quite a hostile and insecure place for many people arriving in the UK. But, I'd like to go into a little bit more detail about some of the major changes that the bill has suggested, which you have concerns about. From our conversation before this recording, I know that you've got some things to say about the criminalization of refugees. And that's the provisions that are set out in the bill for the government to make it a criminal offence to enter the UK "illegally". And again, I've got my square quotes around "illegally" there as well.
FQ: Yeah, one thing I was reflecting on as you were speaking when you're talking about insecurity, and it really kind of brings home that, how insecure the UK is that it's so threatened by people coming to the UK to make this their home. That's the real sad fact of it. It is that why would you feel that you need to criminalise individuals who have to arrive in the UK by these irregular means by boats, etc. When you have no effective safe routes to come to the UK, or where you have those routes and they're measly in terms of the numbers that are available to people, or they're really narrow in their scope, I mean, what other ... what are the means and ways that people are going to have to resort to apart from getting on a boat or, you know, entering the UK however they can. I think what, for us, is just this approach that it's sorting people out and how they've arrived in the UK. You've got this two tier approach now. We're also really worried about how the criminalising aspect, which may mean that some individuals end up in our prison system, and that is now been extended from six months to four years, which is just a hideous in terms of a sentence for anyone. And there shouldn't be any sentence for having to arrive to the UK, you know, through irregular means. But what does it also mean for their future immigration status? So, if they do get, you know, on release or, you know, they are kind of accepted as a refugee, what does that mean for their future status and immigration status? Because everything is focused in around "not conducive to the public good", or this "good character" requirement – which actually has elements in it around not having, you know ... you're at risk of deportation as a foreign national offender, if you have a criminal sentence of over 12 months. It's incredibly worrying how we've got to this point where you've had this, you know, a kind of increasing element of criminalization of migration.
MB: That narrative around illegality that seems to have crept into the language of politicians over the last couple of years, actually – well, perhaps decade, even; we've slowly seen that come in, the kind of "illegality" of migration to the UK through particular routes – seems to now be being made tangible: these measures which will allow the government to prosecute people basically on the grounds by which they arrive in the UK. So, it's almost like they kind of laid the foundations for people to kind of say: "Okay, well, this is alright, because already they're illegal."
FQ: Yeah, no, you're absolutely right. The language of illegality is being used so cleverly. So, you've got the media using it, including some of the more liberal press, they still use the language of "illegal" and pitting "good" versus "bad" migrants. Like I said, the the hostile moment policies, were you really had this ramping up around the language of "illegal" immigration, and not to say it's not been there before, but there just seemed to be a bigger emphasis on it. And then you had the "GO HOME" vans, and, you know, around "illegal" immigration. So, you have had this build up, it seems, around this issue. And the fact is, it's not an issue, we don't have an issue with "illegal" immigration because no one is illegal. And as you said, refugees cannot be illegal. But it's been very cleverly cleverly used, strategically used, and it seems to have taken hold. And, you know, it's interesting, there was even language around "illegal" asylum seekers, because it's like, that's an oxymoron – you can't be both. And then, also the language of "genuine" asylum seekers. There's just a ramping up of the criminalization of migration, and now, kind of targeted at refugees as well. Yeah, this has to be wholeheartedly challenged. I mean, just, you know, we cannot allow this to go any further and need to push back at all costs.
MB: And I'm just nodding along because I just agree. And I know that lots of people listening will also agree. The other issue that I know you've been quite vocal about at Migrants' Rights Network is this offshoring of detention, and most notably, that recent announcement that the government has agreed a deal, which would mean that they could deport refugees to Rwanda. Can you spell out a little bit more of what you think is going on here?
FQ: Yes. So, what was interesting, I think, initially, we thought it was just them offshoring individuals to be detained within Rwanda. And now it's been uncovered. No, that's going to be their future home, even if they were successful in their refugee application, which just ... I don't know if I can even put it in words ...
MB: It's just mind-boggling, isn't it?
FQ: Yeah, I mean, I'm kind of glad I don't have the words, because I don't want to understand why someone would implement such a policy. But we're now persecuting people who have been persecuted, we are now going to be, again, deporting people to a country that they don't ever intend to be in, they don't want to live in. I mean, if they did, I would assume that they would go to Rwanda in the first place, and they wouldn't try to come to the UK. We are now outsourcing our legal and refugee responsibilities to another nation to kind of discharge. The government has already acknowledged that they know that this is going to be challenged in the courts. Then why would you go ahead with such a god awful policy. I think also, you know, there's been some concerns for us around, like, the language of commodifying the issue. So, we know that there's an extortion amount being paid for this deal. But I don't think that's the argument we should be using. It's not about how expensive this deal is, or, I mean, if we made it cheaper it doesn't make it any better or right. It's about our moral and ethical and legal obligations to people who arrive on our shores to give them safety and sanctuary here, and to hear their cases here. I genuinely hope this never gets implemented. And that the courts will actively object and challenge it.
MB: A lot of what you've been saying over the course of our conversation reminds me that all too often, I think, the kind of public and political narrative about migration is one that kind of focuses on values, focuses on economy, rather than focusing on rights, you know, kind of basic human rights or refugee rights. And I think that the rights have kind of got lost in a lot of these provisions.
FQ: I think you're right, and I would go so far – and this might be controversial – to say that I think us, as a sector, also have something to consider about how we've got to a point where we aren't talking about the rights anymore. So, I really hope that we can call back some of that language, around rights.
MB: The final issue that I know that you've been very concerned about, which is Clause 9, and that's the deprivation of citizenship without notice. And I was previously spoke with a colleague, Zainab Naqvi, who's a legal scholar at De Montfort University. But I want to hear from you about how this has come about, to your mind.
FQ: Deprivation we know has been happening for, again, decades, maybe longer. We know people have been deprived. But we know that it's targeted mainly brown-black migrants, and now we're focused in on Muslims. I think where we've got to this point, where depriving people without notice, is because the courts upheld a challenge, quite rightly, against the Home Office, where an individual was deprived their citizenship without notice, or without adequate notice I believe, and then, the court upheld that and said "no, you cannot do this". So, then, the Home Office thought, well, we'll sneak this into the Nationality and Borders Bill as it's going through. And lo and behold, we had Clause 9. When it emerged, I think, what was interesting was how it became such a spotlight in the media, and how new groups are formed and are campaigning against it, because suddenly everyone who's from a migrant background feels threatened around this. And, you know, it's a sad fact that we have to be campaigning on this issue of people potentially being deprived of citizenship, because the problem is ... Citizenship gives you rights and entitlements in the UK. If we didn't have that association, people might think "well, it doesn't matter if I'm a non British citizen". But the fact that it just gives you so many, so many rights in here. And the other aspect is that challenging that probation is really difficult. We know that they use special immigration courts, especially for national security grounds, and you can't see the evidence directly. So, how can you ... I can't imagine how you challenge evidence that you don't even know what it is.
MB: So, when somebody is deprived of their citizenship, on national security grounds, not even they can see the evidence that's being used against them?
FQ: No. So, if you have to go through SIAC [Special Immigration Appeals Commission], you have to appoint a special advocate. And the special advocates are lawyers who are allowed to see the evidence, if it's all based on national security grounds, and then they're not allowed to tell you directly what the evidence is. I mean, SIAC in itself is been a problem for a long time, and it was the Labour government that introduced this. So, you know, it's not always the existing government that is at fault, but it's ... they've been able to build on things that previous governments have bought in.
MB: Yes, a long trajectory of that. And I guess that, you know, that it's very clear now that the government have been using this, not only against people who were born overseas, but against – so, people who've naturalised as British – but also against people who were born British. And that was the big change that started to happen in the last decade, wasn't it?
FQ: Yeah, no, absolutely. And I'm thinking also about myself. I'm born British, but I have Pakistani heritage through my parents. They've got me a national identity card. And now I'm thinking was that a mistake? I mean, I think ... I mean, even just holding a national ID ... I don't think holding an identity card in itself wouldn't stop me from potentially being deprived, but it just might make it a little bit easier for them, for the courts – if I was, you know, ever put forward for that. It's really kind of questioned, kind of how welcome I am and how much I really belong to the UK? Is this really my home? You know, just going back a little bit. I've experienced quite a lot of racism in the 80s and the 90s. You're told to go home, go back to where you came from, not knowing, well, where I come from is the UK, and it has always been, you know, I've been born here. I finally got to a point where I feel this is home, this is my only home, and especially for my children as well. But it seems like there's always something else that's bought forward to make me feel that I shouldn't belong, I'm not allowed to belong, and I'm not allowed to be welcome. And this just seems to be another factor that's bought in through that. There seems to be, again, a different approach to migrants or people, you know, first, second generation, you know, third, etc, that we're put under a finermicroscope. So, if we place a foot wrong or behave in a way that's not deemed appropriate, we are immediately seen as someone who's deportable; we're immediately migrantised and seen through through that lens. I've always wondered, you know, someone like Rolf Harris, for example, has he had his citizenship revoked? Is he at risk of deportation, even despite having a criminal sentence? I fear not. I want to know why, I want to understand why someone like that is treated differently to people of colour. So, it will be again interesting to see how this aspect of the bill – well, soon to be Act – will be implemented, who it targets. And I think what we need to be better at is kind of publicly sharing what is happening, because I think it has been so hidden.
MB: Fizza's closing reflections really draw attention to how important it is to bear witness to the ways in which the hostile environment has been experienced by racially minoritized communities in the UK. It also signals the need for continued vigilance, as the provisions introduced through the Nationality and Borders Act are implemented. I can't recommend enough the work that she and Migrants' Rights Network do. They're a charity that works alongside migrants in their fight for rights and justice. And you can find out more about them on their website: migrantsrights.org.uk. I'd also recommend checking out their fantastic Instagram feeds, which includes a set of explainers that encourage people to think twice about some of the commonplace language used to describe migrants and migration. As they highlight, words matter. You can also find out more about the journey that Trent and Dave have been on with the British Overseas Territory Citizens Campaign over at botccampaign.org. And of course, I'll be dropping links to all these resources and more into the Episode Notes. This has been a longer than usual episode, my small attempt to document this latest twist in the story of British citizenship. Over the course of Season #1, we explored the history that laid the foundations for present day questions of citizenship, migration and belonging. And to my mind, this historical understanding reveals a longer backstory to the Nationality and Borders Act than we might otherwise realise. Indeed, George's discoveries in the archive regularly remind us of eerie resemblances between past and present approaches to migration and citizenship. In the months and years to come, there will be more to add to this story, which will reveal the undoubtedly long tail of the Nationality and Borders Act. We're all going to need to reflect on this. And as Fizza reminded me, solidarity is going to be crucial in challenging and combating these changes. In Season #2, we're going to continue this exploration of citizenship, migration and belonging. And we'll be back next month with a focus on the relationship between citizenship and global social inequalities with Professor Manuela Boatcă, until next time. Thanks for listening to this episode of Who Do We Think We Are? – a podcast series produced and hosted by me, Michaela Benson, as part of my British Academy mid-career fellowship, "Britain and its overseas citizens". If you like what you've heard, take a moment to subscribe on your preferred podcast platform. Special thanks to Emma Houlton and Andrew Proctor at Art of Podcast for their production and post production support, and to George Kalivis for the cover art and archival research. Finally, to find out more about me and my research, you can follow me on Twitter @Michaelacbenson. See you again next time.
What is the UK’s Nationality and Borders Act? How does it relate to previous acts concerned with nationality and immigration legislation? What is the back story to some of the central changes that this act introduces? We cover all of this and more in this bumper episode to mark the start of Series 2 of Who do we think we are?
Presenter Michaela Benson introduces the Nationality and Borders Act and how this sits in a longer history of Acts which considers changes to nationality and immigration legislation alongside one another. She also joins podcast researcher George Kalivis in the archive, where they discuss the behind closed doors responses of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about what Britain should do in respect to the resettlement of refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s and 80s. We’re joined by Trent Lamont Miller and Dave Varney of the British Overseas Territories Citizenship campaign to discuss the impetus behind this campaign and the journey to get legislation changed to allow the children of British Overseas Territories citizens born outside of marriage abroad to be entitled for this citizenship status. But as our conversation with Fizza Qureshi (CEO of Migrants Rights Network) reveals, the success of this campaign for BOTCs is bittersweet in the context of the predominantly bleak consequences of this act.
You can access the full transcripts for each episode over on the Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit website.
In this episode we cover …
- Nationality and Borders Act
- Resettlement of Vietnamese Refugees
- British Overseas Territories Citizens
- Refugee and migrant rights
When you have no effective safe routes to come to the UK, or where you have those routes, and they're measly, in terms of the numbers that are available to people, or they're really narrow in their scope, I mean, what other ways are people going to have to resort to, apart from getting on a boat to entering the UK?
—Fizza Qureshi, CEO Migrants Rights Network
This just makes no sense to me because my British BOTC father did not marry my foreign born mother ... every child has copies of both parents DNA, they have two sides of the family tree for the UK Government to take a pair of scissors and cut away one part of that DNA and family tree and then say you're not valid, you're not welcome, go away. It's deeply hurtful.— Trent Lamont Miller, BOTC Campaign
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Rieko Karatani, Britishness Reconsidered
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Active listening questions
- What requirement/clause within the nationality and borders bill was the most impactful and why?
- After listening to the podcast how would you define the language of illegality?
- Has this changed how you view your own citizenship, how / how not?