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The importance of citizenship

Source: cytis via Pixabay

By Nina White

Citizenship is something that most people take for granted on a daily basis, despite it having an influence over every aspect of our lives. It is what gives us the right to live, work and vote and this is just naming a few of the rights that we’re entitled to simply by being a British citizen. However, in the last few years, the government has made it harder to acquire British citizenship, whereby individuals would need to have already been granted settled status and pass a citizenship test. 

Arguably, the most notable case where the Home Office has shown complete carelessness towards citizenship was the Windrush scandal. Under the Nationality Act 1948, anyone born within the United Kingdom and Colonies before 1973 were automatically British citizens, and not only that, with a labour shortage in the UK, they were actively encouraged to take up this right. They were British subjects with no separation from any other, with no further need for documentation and were free to work and prosper in the UK. 

Despite being British citizens, the Windrush generation was heavily affected by Theresa May’s Hostile Environment policy, where they were denied vital services such as employment, housing and healthcare. This demonstrates the government’s carelessness towards citizenship and how they have reduced it to something insignificant, despite how hard it is to acquire. They should be ashamed of the way they have treated their citizens. Is it really the case that the UK government is protecting citizen’s rights? 

Following former Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s decision to remove Shamima Begum of her British citizenship, making her stateless, I have very little faith in the Home Office. Her baby soon died of pneumonia which possibly could have been avoided if she was allowed to come back to the UK and face British justice. The Home Office was quick to revoke her citizenship by claiming that Begum could gain Bangladeshi citizenship; a move that was immediately denied and condemned by Bangladesh themselves. This is a clear breach of Begum’s human rights as she was temporarily made ‘homeless’, a status a person achieves when they hold no country’s citizenship.

According to Operation Yellowhammer, the government’s reasonable worst-case no deal Brexit scenario, ‘UK nationals will lose their EU citizenship and, as a result, can expect to lose associated rights and access to services over time’. I have had EU citizenship from the day I was born, and now I will no longer have access to it having never had a say on Brexit in the first place? Consider British citizens living in the EU as well, who have built their lives abroad, but now all that will change. Apparently just like British citizenship, EU citizenship means nothing.

Citizenship is evidently just a social construct and it can easily be taken away from you. Now it has been reduced to something insignificant, as though it doesn’t have an impact on every aspect of our lives. Whether this is with regard to British citizenship, European citizenship or any citizenship of any place in the world, maybe we should all be a little more concerned about what rights we have to really belong. 

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