The debate on the Immigration Bill has just begun in the Commons. Many MPs are still trying to decide how to vote on the proposal to render foreign-born terror suspects ‘stateless’. In an attempt to persuade his party to vote with the government, Lib Dem Home Office minister Norman Baker has sent out a ‘dear colleague’ letter to MPs, leaked to Coffee House, in which he says he has amended the legislation to the extent that there is a ‘major shift’ from the Home Secretary.
This ‘major shift’ means the Home Secretary must believe the suspect being deprived of their citizenship will be able to secure alternative citizenship from another country, and that the process can be examined by an independent reviewer.
He then engages in a bit of political strategising, telling MPs that if their party does win a concession from its Coalition partners, this should be reflected in their voting:
‘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.’
It will be interesting to see whether this has any sway with MPs worried about the proposals. You can read the letter in full below:
Some of you will rightly have been concerned about the proposal to deprive individuals (albeit a very small number) of citizenship. Although the circumstances are tightly defined, nevertheless I recognise there is a point of principle here. Indeed, I share that view myself.
You will know that the Lords rejected that proposal and sought instead to kick it into the long grass by setting up a committee to look at it. Of course there is no guarantee that that committee would not actually come down in favour of the proposal, so in effect it simply delays the decision and gives more leverage to a very small group of peers.
I have therefore been seeking to have the Bill amended in a way that meets the principled and I believe that what is now on offer represents a major shift from the Home Secretary. In essence, there are two safeguards now being offered: first, that the Home Sec must believe that the person will be able to secure alternative citizenship from a different country, and second that the process, including if so wished individual cases, can be looked at by an Independent Reviewer.
I think these two conditions in essence mean that it should not be possible to make someone stateless, and although the formula is not as clean as we might like, I think personally it is sufficient.
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. I therefore recommend that colleagues reject the Lords amendment and support the government alternatives that I have helped negotiate. If colleagues really feel uncomfortable, and I hope you now don’t, then I would ask you to abstain.
I am happy to talk to any colleague individually if that would help.
UPDATE, 3.05pm: James Brokenshire confirms this in the Commons, saying the Home Secretary will need to explore whether the person concerned is able to acquire another nationality. Julian Huppert, one of the original rebels, has already says it addresses some but not all concerns about this policy. Another MP asked what would happen if no other nationality is available. Brokenshire replied that if the Home Secretary would then not be able to use this power.