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For the past 40 years, the Home Office has been issuing British passports to people who may not be British citizens. The British Nationality (Regularisation of Past Practice) Bill, introduced on 24 May, would retroactively change citizenship laws to ensure that those affected are and always were British citizens, bringing the law into line with long-running executive practice.

UK-born children of EU citizens may not have been British following High Court judgment

A child born in the UK will not necessarily be a British citizen. Under the British Nationality Act 1981, they must have a parent who is British or “settled”. Being settled requires being free of immigration restrictions, such as having indefinite leave to remain.

Between 1983 and 2000, the Home Office treated EU citizens in the UK as free of immigration restrictions if exercising free movement rights. They were not required to have indefinite leave. On that interpretation, the UK-born children of EU citizens would be British citizens (and entitled to British passports).

In October 2022, the Home Office changed its position. It now understands that this policy was “incorrect” because EU citizens could not, under the 1981 Act, have been free of immigration restrictions unless they had indefinite leave (or another permanent immigration status). This was confirmed in a High Court judgment handed down in January 2023.

The implication is that some people born to EU citizens between 1983 and 2000 are not British citizens after all, despite being treated as such. The Home Office has stopped issuing British passports to first-time applicants affected by this issue.

The bill would ensure that children born to EU citizens between 1983 and 2000 are British

The bill contains a single substantive clause. It would amend the 1981 Act so that people exercising free movement rights to live in the UK between 1983 and 2000 were always free of immigration restrictions for the purposes of nationality law.

This retroactive measure would ensure that children born to EU citizens ordinarily resident during that period are, and always were, British citizens.

The government wishes the bill to be “fast-tracked” through Parliament

All remaining Commons stages (second reading, committee and report) are to be taken on the same day, 6 June 2023. The government also proposes that committee stage in both Commons and Lords will be in Committees of the Whole House.

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