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The Home Secretary has the power to take away a person’s British citizenship if they consider it conducive to the public good, or if the person obtained their citizenship by fraud. The power of citizenship deprivation is in section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981.

Citizenship deprivation happens for national security reasons or in cases of fraud

Depriving someone of their British citizenship for the public good is almost always used in the context of national security. The aim is to prevent a person who poses a threat to the United Kingdom from returning to the country, which they would otherwise have a right to do as a British citizen.

For people who have naturalised as British, citizenship deprivation is permitted even if it would leave them stateless (ie without the citizenship of any country). Someone who was born British and has no other nationality cannot be deprived of their citizenship in any circumstances.

People must usually be given written notice and have a right of appeal

The Home Secretary is usually required to give the person written notice. Under section 10 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, notice can be withheld in certain circumstances, such as where it is considered reasonably necessary in the interests of national security.

There is a right of appeal against citizenship deprivation. Appeals take place at the First-tier Tribunal or (in national security cases) the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). In SIAC appeals, sensitive evidence may be withheld from the appellant and their lawyer, and a ‘special advocate’ appointed to represent their interests instead.

Over 1,000 citizenship deprivation orders were made from 2010 to 2022

The Home Office does not routinely publish comprehensive figures on citizenship deprivation. The available data shows there have been at least 847 deprivation orders for fraud, and 217 orders for the ‘public good’, since 2010. The exact number of successful appeals against these orders is not known.

Commentators have suggested that many of those deprived of their citizenship on ‘public good’ grounds are British Muslims.

Deprivation used to be allowed only for naturalised citizens

Deprivation of citizenship for fraud was introduced over 100 years ago, by legislation passed in 1914. A power to deprive citizenship for certain types of misconduct, including if a naturalised citizen had proven “disaffected or disloyal”, was added shortly before the end of the First World War. Until 2003, however, deprivation was only possible for naturalised citizens.

The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 extended citizenship deprivation to British-born dual nationals for the first time. This was possible if they had done something “seriously prejudicial” to the UK’s vital interests, but the test was later changed to “conducive to the public good”.

British citizens can also be refused a passport or have their passport withdrawn

British passports are issued at the discretion of the Home Secretary under the Royal Prerogative (an executive power which does not require legislation). They can be withdrawn or withheld using the same discretionary power.

Withdrawal of passports is not the same as withdrawing citizenship. Someone whose passport is withdrawn remains a British citizen but their overseas travel is restricted. Home Office policy states this will be done “sparingly”, such as where the person intends to travel abroad to engage in terrorism.

There is no right of appeal against having a passport withdrawn, but the person can ask for an internal review by the Government or apply for judicial review by a judge. From 2013 to 2021, there were 94 cases of passport withdrawal for national security reasons, according to the Home Office.

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