The home secretary, Theresa May, has won the backing of MPs for her controversial plan to strip naturalised British terror suspects of their UK passports after it was revised following last-minute negotiations with the Liberal Democrats.
The details of the talks were revealed in a leaked letter to Lib Dem MPs from their party’s only Home Office minister, Norman Baker, who pleaded with them not to vote against the revised package despite concerns it would still leave people stateless
“If colleagues really feel uncomfortable, and I hope you now don’t, then I would ask you to abstain,” he told them.
In the letter leaked to the Spectator website, Baker told his Lib Dem colleagues that he shared the view that there was a point of principle at stake over the issue but argued the new safeguards represented “a major shift from the home secretary” and warned them: “Politically, if we demand major concessions from the Tories and get them, that should affect how we vote. If it doesn’t, then the incentive for them to give ground and the leverage I have diminishes.”
The two new safeguards will mean that the home secretary will not be able to take away British citizenship from somebody they “reasonably believe” will be unable to secure an alternative passport from another country – so they are not left stateless – and that an independent reviewer will oversee the process, including examining individual cases.
The concessions were enough to secure May a 66-strong majority when the Commons voted by 305 to 239 to overturn a Lords amendment to the immigration bill that would have required a committee of peers and MPs to look in depth at the powers to strip naturalised UK citizens of their British passports.
The Baker letter appeared to have worked. Only one Lib Dem MP, Sarah Teather, and two Conservatives, Richard Shepherd and David Davis, voted against the government.
Despite the overwhelming Commons majority, May still faced criticism from individual Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs as well as opposition from Labour members, who questioned whether the new safeguards would really prevent people being left stateless and whether effective oversight was possible when much of the process will take place in secret in the special immigration appeals commission – Britain’s anti-terrorist court.
Home Office minister James Brokenshire said the government was trying to address the concerns about people being left stateless permanently in circumstances in which they would have no recourse to another nationality.
He said: “If the home secretary cannot satisfy herself on reasonable grounds that the individual would be able to acquire citizenship of another state, she would not be able to utilise the power. That is the point.”
But Labour’s David Hanson said the plan still proposed a piece of legislation that would break international requirements across the board. The Liberal Democrat party home affairs spokesman, Julian Huppert, and Shepherd, one of the rebelling Conservative MPs, both voiced strong continuing concerns. The issue will now be sent back to the House of Lords and if they insist on their amendment it will trigger a period of parliamentary “ping-pong” that could last several weeks.
Donald Campbell of Reprieve, the human rights campaign, said the vote was a deeply disappointing result that would create a two-tier system of citizenship in Britain.”The Lords must continue to oppose this dangerous measure, and it is to be hoped that MPs will think again,” he said.