Ministers have lost a vote in the House of Lords over plans to allow “terror suspects” to be stripped of their citizenship.
The government was defeated by 242 votes to 180 as peers rejected planned changes to immigration laws.
Ministers want the power to remove the citizenship of a naturalised Briton acting in a way “seriously prejudicial” to the UK’s national interests. But peers said this was an approach used by “dictators and tyrants”.
At present citizenship can only be removed if the person will not be left stateless. Peers said a parliamentary committee should consider any changes to current legal safeguards in detail before any action was taken.
“There are regrettably all too many dictators around the world willing to use the creation of statelessness as a weapon against opponents,” said crossbench peer Lord Pannick, who led the opposition to the move. “We should do nothing to suggest that such conduct is acceptable.”
Labour peer Baroness Kennedy described leaving someone stateless as “repugnant”, telling peers it was a “weapon used by tyrants and dictators”.
In response, Home Office minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach said any decision to strip someone of their citizenship would not be taken lightly and would only be used in a “limited and targeted way”.
“There are a minority of individuals who choose to become a British citizen and then later seek to threaten our security, subvert our values and laws, and fight against our own armed forces,” he said.
“It would be perverse if such people while attacking our forces or terrorising our civilians could invoke our protection.”
Despite the Lord’s defeat, advocacy group CAGE warned that citizenship deprivation is a power that can still be used at the whim of the British government.
In a statement CAGE said: “The coalition has exercised this power 37 of the 42 times it has been used since 9-11, far outdoing even the previous Labour government – a key partner in the War on Terror. Those targeted in this way have also been overwhelmingly Muslim, with only one, Russian Anna Chapman, known to have not been a Muslim.
“Citizenship revocations take place behind a veil of secrecy with the home secretary able to wield this power with no parliamentary or judicial oversight. With the individual often abroad and unable to re-enter the UK when their citizenship is revoked, challenging such decisions are nigh on impossible.
“CAGE’s investigations have revealed that citizenship deprivation opens the door for a succession of human rights abuses to take place, including: extrajudicial killing; extraordinary rendition; arbitrary detention; and torture.
“The case of Mahdi Hashi who was stripped of his British citizenship back in 2011 best illustrates this. He was secretly rendered to America from Djibouti and then placed under Special Administrative Measures in conditions which are – according to UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez and 20 leading human rights organisations – tantamount to torture.”
Commenting on the proposed amendment, Mohammed Hashi, father of Mahdi Hashi, said: “They are treating people, especially Muslims, like animals in a farm waiting to be slaughtered. Even if they are only suspicious of you, they will take your citizenship away from you. This will be a disaster. If it is as simple as that to make people stateless, why do they accept asylum seekers in the first place and claim to be humanitarians?”
And Saghir Hussain, a human rights lawyer, said: “There is compelling evidence that the implementation of this clause by the Government is an attempt to circumvent previous allegations of complicity in torture and rendition.
“Following the removal of their citizenship, Mohamed Sakr and Bilal el-Berjawi were unlawfully killed by the US. Similarly, Mahdi Hashi was kidnapped and rendered to the USA shortly after the removal of his citizenship. A mere unproven suspicion can lead to a UK citizen losing not only their passport but also their life.
“This is an alarming new development which the Government is seeking to entrench. The heightened state of Islamophobia in the UK is being used to propel this otherwise objectionable measure through parliament.”