Opinion: ‘Nothing to fear over UK citizenship’

Peterborough’s MP Paul Bristow writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph...

Saturday, 11th December 2021, 2:15 pm
MP for Peterborough Paul Bristow attending a surgery at the Masjid Khadijah Mosque, Cromwell Road with Vice Chair of the Mosque Mohammed Rangzeb, Imam Mahood Hassan Koli and Cllr Gul Nawaz.

Democracy can only work in a democratic culture. That means basic things, like people not committing voter fraud. But it also means less tangible things, like our debates needing shared facts.

The term “fake news” both sums up and exemplifies the problem. We have seen many myths about COVID-19 and the vaccine which has had serious consequences on uptake and subsequently on infection levels.

Some of this nonsense starts accidentally. Some is the product of bad faith or corrosive cynicism. And too much is a wilful, deliberate attempt to mislead.

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The worst kind tries to divide us against each other. Sadly, that kind can be found here in Peterborough, circulating on WhatsApp and Facebook groups.

Last week, I held a surgery at the Khadijah mosque and met my local branch of the Conservative Muslim Forum. I heard the consequences of misinformation about the Nationality and Borders Bill.

Good people in our city have been made to fear for their future and told they could be stripped of their British citizenship without notice. Hearing their anxieties made me incredibly angry about the game some people are playing.

A bit of context is useful. For over a century, Home Secretaries have been able to remove British citizenship in exceptional circumstances, provided this wouldn’t render someone stateless.

Well-known examples include Anna Chapman for being a Russian spy and Shamima Begum for joining ISIL and sowing bombers into suicide vests.

That shows how unusual these cases tend to be. There must be a significant risk of harm to the public, like terrorism, and there is a right of appeal. At the moment, it’s also necessary to serve notice in person.

But what about dangerous individuals in war zones? Or people living in hiding?

Clause 9 of the Nationality and Borders Bill removes the need to serve notice if it’s impracticable. That’s the only change it makes. There are no changes to the exceptional circumstances that allow citizenship to be removed. The right to make an appeal is unaltered.

By definition, no one living a normal life in the United Kingdom will be affected. Nothing in Peterborough is altered by this minor change to the law and no constituent should be concerned about their own citizenship.

So I told Parliament on Monday “what Labour activists and Labour councillors are saying in my constituency. Councillor Amjad Iqbal, a legal practitioner... messaged constituents saying: “‘As your councillor I am very concerned at some of the policies this government is sharing behind closed doors. As ethnic minority individuals I wish to share this with you…’

“Behind closed doors? We are debating it in the House of Commons.

“Another councillor, Councillor Qayyum, said ward residents: ‘have been told that their Nationality cannot be revoked by an MP who has written to them on official letterhead paper.’” This letter was my effort to reassure residents who had contacted me. But the councillor went on to say on social media that this “’is untrue’” provoking yet again another set of worried residents getting in touch.

As I told my colleagues, “to send out that message to people in my constituency is shameful.”

This has had profound effects. Many worried, scared and fearful constituents have contacted me and my office - sometimes literally in tears - thinking there is a risk of their nationality being revoked. I am a fairly easy-going guy.

But for the fear they have spread - on behalf of the scared and worried families I have sat down with and spoken to, it will be difficult to forgive and forget. I hope they reflect on this.