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Paul Vallely: was the Home Secretary right to remove British citizenship from Shamima Begum?

22 February 2019

The Home Secretary has miscalculated over Shamima Begum, Paul Vallely argues


The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid

The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid

WAS the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, right to remove British citizenship from Shamima Begum, the schoolgirl who truanted from Bethnal Green Academy in the East End of London four years ago, and travelled to Syria to become the bride of a jihadi warrior with the terrorist group Islamic State?

Last week, in the Syrian refugee camp where she has just given birth to the son of an Islamist fighter, the Londoner made a dramatic request for forgiveness, and asked to be allowed to return to the UK. In response, the British security minister, Ben Wallace, said that, as a British citizen, she had the right to come home.

The Home Secretary disagreed. Although the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, was right to say that the Government “can’t make people stateless”, Mr Javid thinks that section 40(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981 gives him the power to strip Ms Begum of her UK citizenship, on the grounds that, since her mother has a Bangladeshi passport, her daughter is eligible for citizenship of Bangladesh, even though she has never even visited the country.

All that then needs to be proved is that the offender has behaved “in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom”. There is not much doubt that she has done that — by giving moral succour to brutal terrorists whose crimes include the beheading of British citizens.

But there is a bigger question. Even if Mr Javid is acting within the law, is he doing the right thing in terms of prudent politics?

Stripping Ms Begum of her citizenship runs the risk of handing a PR victory to the Islamists, just as their territorial caliphate is disintegrating and they are looking to regroup underground. Mr Javid risks making her a recruiting sergeant who may radicalise more young British Muslims.

The popular and political indignation against her is understandable. Though she asked for forgiveness, she showed no contrition in her first two filmed interviews. Indeed she justified Islamic terrorism as “retaliation” and was, at best, ambiguous in her remarks about the terrorist bombing of a pop concert in Manchester in which 23 people died. Her body language revealed a serious lack of empathy. She clearly persists in the same distorted mindset as took first her to Syria.

All this suggests that she should be brought back to Britain, not as a right or privilege, but to take responsibility for her actions. Under the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, which received Royal assent last week, it became an offence even to travel to places like Syria unless for one of a few permitted reasons. Membership of a terrorist group is a serious crime for which she should be put on trial.

The citizenship of her week-old child is unclear, but it is likely that he has the right to British citizenship. He also has the right to be brought up outside the terrorist mindset that holds his mother in thrall. He would, on the face of things, thrive best away from his mother. As for her, she would be better contained in a British prison than let loose in Bangladesh, where she might not be confined, or even supervised.

The Home Secretary has made an error of judgement. It is to be hoped that the courts overrule him.

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