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Can the UK remove your citizenship?

The UK government has the power to deprive a person of their British citizenship in certain circumstances. This article will examine when and how the Home Secretary can revoke British citizenship, the conditions that need to be met, the appeals process, and statistics on citizenship removal. The key questions around deprivation of citizenship are covered below.

What is deprivation of citizenship?

Deprivation of citizenship, also known as citizenship revocation, is when the UK government removes British citizenship from an individual. This power is set out in the British Nationality Act 1981 and can be exercised by the Home Secretary.

When citizenship is removed, a person’s passport is cancelled, they lose the rights associated with citizenship, and may be barred from entering the UK. However, deprivation of citizenship does not make someone stateless – it can only be used if the person has dual nationality or is eligible for citizenship elsewhere.

In what circumstances can citizenship be removed?

There are two main situations where deprivation of citizenship can occur:

1. Fraud

Citizenship obtained by means of fraud, false representation, or concealment of a material fact can be revoked. This could apply if an individual lied on their citizenship application or failed to disclose an important fact like a criminal conviction.

2. Conduct seriously prejudicial to the UK’s vital interests

This covers terrorism, espionage, taking up arms against British forces, and other behaviour deemed threatening to the UK. It was brought in primarily to deal with terrorism cases.

Additionally, minors can have their citizenship revoked if their parent loses British nationality.

What conditions must be met?

For citizenship to be stripped, the following conditions must be fulfilled:

  • The person must be a British citizen.
  • They must hold dual nationality or be eligible for another citizenship.
  • Depriving them of British citizenship must be conducive to the public good.
  • The Home Secretary must have reasonable grounds to believe the person obtained citizenship improperly or engaged in harmful conduct.

Essentially, revocation can only occur if the individual has a second citizenship to fall back on – otherwise they would be made stateless, which is illegal under international law.

Who can be deprived of citizenship?

In theory, any British citizen who holds dual nationality could have their citizenship revoked. However, in practice certain groups are more likely to be targeted:

  • Terrorism suspects – used particularly for those linked to ISIS.
  • Criminals convicted of serious offences like terrorism, espionage, or war crimes.
  • Individuals who obtained citizenship through fraud.

Natural-born British nationals who only hold UK citizenship cannot have their citizenship stripped.

What is the process for revoking citizenship?

The Home Secretary has the power to deprive a person of British citizenship. The process is as follows:

  1. The Home Office reviews evidence on the individual’s circumstances and conduct.
  2. If the case meets the legal criteria, the Home Secretary signs a deprivation order.
  3. The person is sent a letter informing them their citizenship has been removed.
  4. Their passport is cancelled and they lose associated rights.

There is no requirement for the Home Office to inform the person before their citizenship is revoked. Often the first they know is when they receive the letter.

Is there an appeals process?

Those who have their British citizenship revoked have a limited right of appeal.

The first step is to request a review of the decision. This must be made within 28 days of receiving notice. Further evidence can be submitted at this stage.

If the review upholds the deprivation order, an appeal can be lodged with the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) within 28 days. SIAC will assess whether the Home Secretary’s decision was legally reasonable.

However, appeals can only be made from outside the UK. Once their citizenship is removed, the person is barred from entering Britain.

What are the controversies around citizenship stripping?

While presented as a national security measure, deprivation of citizenship remains highly controversial. The main criticisms are:

  • Revocation leaves people stateless – the UK is disregarding its international obligations.
  • It deprives people of their rights without due process.
  • It is ineffective and counterproductive – removing citizenship does not nullify any security threat.
  • It discriminates against immigrant-origin and ethnic minority citizens.

Critics argue revocation violates human rights and that prosecution through the criminal justice system is more just and effective.

What are the statistics on deprivation of British citizenship?

The rate of citizenship stripping has increased markedly over the past decade:

Year Citizenships revoked
2010 5
2015 32
2017 104
2019 150

In total, around 400 people have had British citizenship deprived since 2006. This includes 150 people in 2017 and 104 people in 2019, although exact numbers are not published.

The increase has coincided with a rise in citizenship revocation powers used for counter-terrorism purposes. Most of those deprived recently appear to be dual nationals linked to ISIS.

Notable recent cases

Some high profile examples of people who have had their British citizenship revoked include:

  • Shamima Begum – One of three east London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria to join ISIS in 2015. She was stripped of UK citizenship in 2019.
  • Jack Letts – Dubbed ‘Jihadi Jack’, he left Britain to join ISIS in 2014 aged 18. He had his citizenship removed in 2019 after being detained in Syria.
  • Saudi-born Mohammed al-Massari – His British citizenship was revoked in 2005 after he was deemed to have engaged in terrorist fundraising.

These cases attracted significant media attention but are just a few of the hundreds who have lost British citizenship in recent years.

What happens after someone’s citizenship is revoked?

Once British citizenship is removed, the individual is exiled from the UK and forbidden from returning. They also lose rights like voting, obtaining a British passport, and consular assistance abroad.

If they do not hold another nationality, they are left effectively stateless. This can leave people stranded abroad, such as in refugee camps. Even if they have dual citizenship, they may struggle to access basic rights in the second state.

The UK government has faced criticism for ‘offshoring’ national security risks through citizenship stripping. However, some return covertly despite being excluded, raising questions about the effectiveness of deprivation powers.


In summary, the UK Home Secretary has the power to deprive dual nationals of British citizenship in cases involving national security, terrorism, or serious criminality. This must meet strict legal criteria and does not make people stateless. While an appeals process exists, it has limited scope.

The use of citizenship stripping has proved controversial. Critics argue it is ineffective and denies people human rights. But the UK government maintains revocation is a legitimate tool to deal with serious threats and foreign terrorist fighters. Overall, deprivation of citizenship remains a complex and disputed area of UK immigration law.