(The Guardian)- Is Asma al-Assad a war criminal? Is she a threat to British national security? These are the questions the home secretary will consider if she gives any attention to the call by the Liberal Democrat’s foreign affairs spokesman Tom Brake that she withdraw the Syrian president’s wife’s British citizenship. Al-Assad is acting as “a spokesperson for the Syrian presidency”, he said. The British government could say to her, he added, “Either stop using your position to defend barbaric acts, or be stripped of your citizenship.”
Al-Assad was born in the UK and is a British citizen by birth; she is also a Syrian national. Those who had their citizenship revoked used to be only naturalised citizens but, from 2003, this could also apply to those born in the UK if they have dual nationality or the home secretary believes they could become a citizen of another country (conversely, this is why the extremist preacher Abu Hamza’s British citizenship could not be stripped, despite attempts – his Egyptian citizenship had already been revoked and his lawyers successfully claimed he would have been left stateless).
Many people stripped of citizenship have faced this on terror-related grounds. Last year, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found Theresa May had stripped at least 33 people of their British citizenship on these grounds since she became home secretary in 2010 (others have had their citizenship revoked on grounds of fraud). But it is also being used for other crimes – four men involved in the Rochdale child sex abuse case are facing deportation to Pakistan after a decision by May in 2015 that their (naturalised) British citizenship be revoked. The issue of withdrawal and its methods (the Home Office often waits until someone is out of the country before serving them notice it has been revoked) has been criticised for creating a two-tier citizenship system.
“The legislation gives the home secretary a very broad power to decide when somebody can be deprived of their citizenship,” says barrister and immigration law specialist Colin Yeo. “It has to be ‘conducive to the public good’. That’s quite a low test. The test has been softened considerably since 2006 and it’s a lot easier to deprive somebody of their citizenship now.” In a blogpost, he also noted that what might fall short of “public good” is vague (the government only says it includes “involvement in terrorism, espionage, serious organised crime, war crimes or unacceptable behaviours”). Sure, the UK could happily do without the woman who cheerleads her husband’s slaughterous regime, and tags photographs of herself on her Instagram account with #weloveyouasma, so could that be described as “unacceptable behaviours”? Over to the Home Office.