Nick Clegg approves scheme to strip away British citizenship in move to stem Tory rebels’ support of criminals’ deportation
Nick Clegg has signed up to a plan drawn up by Theresa May to strip foreign-born terror suspects of British citizenship – a move that would render them stateless – if they are judged to present a threat to national security.
In a last-ditch bid to reduce a damaging Tory rebellion in the Commons on Thursday, the home secretary rushed out the proposal plan that was branded by Liberty as “irresponsible and unjust”.
The move came as Tory rebels warned of a “parliamentary riot” if ministers press ahead with plans to “time out” a separate amendment that would strip foreign criminals of the ability to resist deportation on the grounds that they have a right to a family life. The amendment is supported by more than 100 MPs, including the former Labour cabinet minister Hazel Blears.
One rebel said: “The government is risking a parliamentary riot over the way they are handling the agenda – trying to squeeze off the vote on the deportation of foreign criminals.”
The home secretary hopes to persuade rebels to abandon support for the deportation plan, tabled by the Tory backbencher Dominic Raab, by proposing to strip naturalised British citizens of their citizenship if they are judged to present a threat to national security. That would even apply to those who have no other citizenship, rendering them stateless.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “Liberty always said that terror suspects should be charged and tried. First politicians avoided trials for foreign nationals; now they seek the same for their own citizens. This move is as irresponsible as it is unjust. It would allow British governments to dump dangerous people on the international community, but equally to punish potential innocent political dissenters without charge or trial. There is the edge of populist madness and then the abyss.”
Liberal Democrat sources said that Clegg is supporting the proposal on the grounds of national security. They said it would apply to no more than a handful of people who are deemed to present a serious terror threat. One source said: “This will apply to a tiny number of cases related to national security.”
The government decided to act after the supreme court ruled last year that a terror suspect accused of targeting British troops had the right to return to Britain from Turkey after being stripped of his British passport, which was awarded in 2000. The supreme court restored UK citizenship to Hilal al-Jedda, who was born in Iraq, on the grounds that he would be stateless.
Tory rebels dismissed the May proposal as a “displacement exercise” because ministers could have introduced the proposal months ago. Rebels are highly suspicious of the government’s tactics because a “programme motion” – in effect a timetable for the report and third stage of the bill – fails to set the times for the groups of amendments, reducing the chances of reaching the Raab amendment on the deportation of foreign criminals.
Scores of government amendments tabled by May will be debated first. John Bercow, the Commons speaker, will then choose which backbench amendments to select for debate. These will be considered in the order in which they are tabled.
A controversial amendment, which would re-impose work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians, would be considered for debate first. This will fail, if it is debated, because Labour will vote with the government to oppose the amendment on the grounds that it would place Britain in breach of its EU obligations.
Another series of Tory backbench amendments, drawn up with the help of the home office, would be the next Conservative votes. Tabled by the backbencher Stephen Phillips and other loyalists, one amendment would oblige the home secretary to report if EU migration is “excessive”. A second Phillips amendment would have to publish an assessment of the scale of migration from a prospective EU member state during its accession negotiations.
Tory whips and aides to cabinet ministers embarked on negotiations with rebels to abandon support the Romanian and Bulgarian amendment and the deportation of foreign criminals. But there were divisions among rebels as supporters of the Raab amendment on the deportation of foreign criminals called on colleagues to give it a greater chance by abandoning the Romanian and Bulgarian amendment.
Raab was highly critical of the government. He said: “It beggars belief that the government is trying to squeeze off the agenda the most popular amendment with cross-party support. It risks strengthens the cynical public perception that the elites stitch up politics and refuse to address the real issues that ordinary people care about.”