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Thursday, January 30, 2014 

Theresa May the extremist.

Did you know that one of the government's definitions of extremism is "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including ... the rule of law"?  It's an especially interesting fact when you consider just how close the government came today to having an amendment inserted into its Immigration Bill that the home secretary knew to be illegal.  Dominic Raab's amendment would have, in his words, "at a stroke, cut out the Article 8 challenges" made by convicted foreign criminals using the Human Rights Act/European Convention on Human Rights against their deportation.  This would have gone a step beyond the government's similar defiance of the ECHR over giving prisoners the right to vote, where MPs merely voted against the principle, rather than on doing so as a point of law.

You would have thought then that the government instructed its whips to push for Tory MPs to vote against Raab's amendment.  After all, it wasn't guaranteed that Labour would vote against the Raab amendment, and so it was more than possible it could have gone into the bill.  It could then have been struck out by the Lords, it's true, but that would be to make assumptions about the other place would vote.  Despite this, and in a sign of just how restive the Tory right is despite the return to growth, David Cameron ordered the whips to stand down and for ministers and their hangers-on to merely abstain.  It's possible there might have been some behind the scenes shenanigans with Labour, with the party deciding almost at the last minute that it would oppose Raab's amendment, yet if there wasn't we came extremely close to a piece of legislation which the government knew to be illegal taking one step closer to becoming actual law.

This sorry state of affairs is explained as Cameron, the scars from previous close calls and the Syria defeat on his back, deciding not to order a vote against an amendment which despite being illegal he had sympathy with.  Quite apart from what this says about how those who make the law and their attitude towards small things like legality, it's another example of politicians deciding that they know better than judges who have examined the full facts of a case before reaching their decision.  Just a couple of weeks back we had Cameron himself and others asking people to respect the decision reached by the jury at the Mark Duggan inquest, and yet in other cases it seems the judiciary and the system is not to be trusted.  If, as Raab says, there are examples of domestic abusers using the relationship with the person they attacked as a reason as to why can't be deported, then clearly those cases needed further examination.  As Left Foot Forward sets out though, Raab doesn't seem to have got other facts right about Article 8 challenges, making you wonder whether he hasn't also made other mistakes.

Remarkably, Raab's amendment was only slightly more objectionable than an amendment which did pass, and one both the Lib Dems and Labour supported.  Having already stripped 37 dual nationals of their British citizenship since the coalition was formed, Theresa May's late amendment to the Immigration Bill will now allow the home secretary to also remove British citizenship from those born abroad even if they don't have dual nationality, leaving them stateless.  Defending this new power, May said it would be used in "very, very specific and limited circumstances" when someone's conduct has been "seriously prejudicial" to Britain's vital interests".  Translated, this seems to mean some of those who have gone to fight in Syria and elsewhere, with some of those who had dual nationality having already been stripped of their citizenship for doing so.  As it has also mainly taken place while they are out of the country, they're unable to return and appeal, having to do so from abroad.  Where this will potentially leave those who only had British citizenship is open to question, and it also begs how they'll be able to appeal against the decision without any consular access.

It also signals another step forward in the inexorable, some would say logical progression of anti-terrorism legislation.  First we had the indefinite detention without charge of foreign nationals who couldn't be tried due to the sensitivity of the intelligence evidence against them; when that was struck down, control orders were brought in as their replacement to be used against those we couldn't deport.  The coalition replaced control orders with TPIMs, which the joint committee on human rights recently reported should be renamed terrorism prevention orders as they are not investigative in any real sense, and which are now being imposed more on those with British citizenship than without.  Now the home secretary is set to have the power to remove a naturalised Briton's citizenship even if it will leave them stateless, purely on the basis of evidence which the individual will not be able to see.  One Tory MP said in the debate he saw no reason why this could not be extended to those born here as well.  Indeed, that seems to be the obvious next place to go should this become law.  Others protested that the power might not be abused by this home secretary, but could be by a future one.  When we have security services that accuse Russians of being spies on the basis of circumstantial evidence, it's more than safe to assume that there is massive potential for mistakes and abuse to happen now.

You can certainly see why the government is so keen on the power.  TPIMs only last for two years before they have to be withdrawn due to the severity of the restrictions they place on individuals on the basis of secret evidence; at the same time they're potentially ineffective, as demonstrated by the disappearance of two of those subject to them.  With this by contrast, so long as it seems someone has left the country, usually to fight alongside jihadists, there are no such worries.  Deprived of their passport, they can't return.  This leaves them the responsibility of the country they've gone to, or more accurately, at the mercy of the authorities there.  Regardless of what we think about such people, and we have to take it on trust they are not just interested in fighting abroad but also bringing the war back home, this washing of our hands is to ignore how they were most likely radicalised here in the first place.  It is though so much easier and also cheaper to dump our problems on others rather than say, actually attempt to prosecute them ourselves.  When the government isn't coming incredibly close to breaking the law itself, that is.

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