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Javid sounds tough note on citizenship in party conference speech


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Sajid Javid delivered a speech today at the Conservative party conference that is likely to generate headlines for what he had to say on immigration, integration and citizenship. Upon closer inspection, there is less substance to these pronouncements than meets the eye and nothing on serious issues like child registration fees or indefinite immigration detention.

Post-Brexit immigration policy

The government had earlier floated some ideas on post-Brexit immigration policy, saying that the UK would not unilaterally make it any easier for EU migrants to move to the UK than non-EU citizens in future. But this is subject to immigration concessions that might be made as part of an overall Brexit deal. The preference will be for highly skilled workers as distinct from (supposedly) lower skilled migrants.

This approach came as no particular surprise following the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee in its major report last month. Nor did Javid address the issue in any more detail in his speech, saying simply that

Thanks to the referendum we now have a unique opportunity to reshape our immigration system for the future.

A skills-based, single system that is opened up to talent from across the world. A system that doesn’t discriminate between any one region or country. A system based on merit. That judges people not by where they are from, but on what they can do.

What people want – and they will get – is control of our own system. With a lower, and sustainable level of net migration. And above all, that has to mean one thing: an end to freedom of movement.

So it is still unclear, for example, how many industries will get an exemption for lower-skilled workers like the one being piloted for the agricultural sector. Paul Waugh of the Huffington Post comments that “the battle within and without government on this very issue is still ongoing”.


The immigration system does not do enough for integration, in Javid’s view. This he proposes to address by beefing up citizenship tests:

The existing “Life in the UK” test for new citizens is not enough. Maybe it is helpful for people to know the name of the sixth wife of Henry VIII. But far more important to me, is that they also understand the liberal, democratic values that bind our society together.

Citizenship should mean more than being able to win a pub quiz.

We need to make it a British values test – and that’s exactly what I will bring in…

Not only will there be a new values test but we will also strengthen the English language requirements for all new citizens.

Taking this statement literally, the changes would only affect applicants for naturalisation (“new citizens”), but the Home Office later clarified that the revamped Life in the UK test would also apply to applicants for indefinite leave to remain.

How the tests would be made more rigorous is not specified and it is hard to see them as the most urgent reform needed at the Home Office. A more effective way of fostering integration would surely be to address the eye-watering fees charged to children — many of whom know no other home than the UK — who want to register as British citizens. That issue was ignored entirely in the speech.

Deprivation of citizenship

This seemed exciting:

The Home Secretary has the power to strip dual-citizens of their British citizenship. It is a power used for extreme and exceptional cases. It should be used with great care and discretion – but also determination. In recent years we have exercised this power for terrorists who are a threat to the country.

Now, for the first time, I will apply this power to some of those who are convicted of the most grave criminal offences. This applies to some of the despicable men involved in gang-based child sexual exploitation.

But stripping British citizens of their citizenship for serious criminality is not in fact new. Some “despicable men involved in gang-based child sexual exploitation” have already been punished in this way: see Aziz & Ors v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2018] EWCA Civ 1884.

Colin recently devoted an entire article tracing the gradual creep towards more expansive use of the deprivation of citizenship power, pointing out that

Reported citizenship deprivation cases typically involve alleged Islamic extremists alleged to be personally involved in terrorism-related activity. All but the final two of the reported cases involving use of the public good deprivation power involve activities which engage questions of national security. These are of the character of actual or potential crimes against the state. The most recent of the cases, Ahmed, Aziz and Pirzada, are of a different character, involving instead serious crimes in the UK.

It will be interesting to see whether this high-profile reiteration of the Home Office’s determination to withdraw citizenship from serious criminals heralds an increase in practice. Statistics are not routinely published on deprivation of citizenship and the Home Office recently refused one of our Freedom of Information requests looking for this data.

The verdict

The theme of the speech was “our home”, with the man in charge at the Home Office doing his level best to make the institution sound cuddly:

There is something profound about that word ‘home’. Most of my counterparts around the world run “Ministries of the Interior”. Interior ministry – it has a cold, brittle feel to it. “Home” is where you feel safe, comfortable and in control.

That will ring rather hollow to migrants and their representatives who have actually dealt with the Home Office. And while it is good to hear the Home Secretary say that the immigration system need not be “hostile to individuals”, that is exactly how it feels to many. Fine words about how “immigration is good for Britain”, unless backed by real reform of how migrants experience the British immigration system in practice, will do little to change that.


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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.