A View from the House

27th February 2019

Shamima Begum. The name has dominated media headlines these past two weeks and antagonised communities across the country. The young girl who left East London four years ago was found in a refugee camp - home to 39,000 fleeing relatives of Isis fighters - by pure serendipity.

The pregnant Ms Begum, who has since given birth to her third child (her two previous children died of malnourishment and sickness), indicated that she wants to return to Britain having fled the caliphate only as it crumbled. The reasoning? “Because I know [my baby] will be taken care of, health-wise at least.”

That interview understandably incensed the nation as she further sought to equate the Manchester terrorist attack to the military strikes in Syria. The urge to mete out punishment is almost overwhelming and doubtless the Home Secretary’s decision to revoke her British citizenship will have won plaudits up and down the country.

Yet, once the primal impulse and irritation fades away and upon careful thought, the Home Secretary’s decision not only has no legal basis, it is irresponsible and has all the appearance of winning the battle but losing the war. Stripping citizenship is a resort of totalitarian governments, not a democracy.

The legal argument is clear, the Home Office itself said the Home Secretary had the power “to deprive someone of their British citizenship where it would not render them stateless”. Given that Ms Begum is not of dual-nationality, she is clearly a British citizen and therefore is our responsibility. We really shouldn’t find obscure legal arguments to palm them off onto another country, Britain meets its security obligations to the international community.

I know from my postbag that there is scant public appetite for bringing terrorist sympathisers back to Britain. Yet, I do not think it wise nor is it in Britain’s interest to leave people stateless in ungoverned spaces, floating around or consorting with those of ill intention. Equally, I do not think it is controversial to ask each country to take responsibility for their own citizens, jihadists or otherwise.

But readers of the Sutton Coldfield Observer should not conflate my firm belief in the rule of law with sympathy for Shamima Begum. I am not convinced by her lawyer’s story of a hapless victim – given she hatched and executed an elaborate plan to cross the Turkish border into Syria to marry an Isis jihadi.

But this is ultimately a good opportunity to understand what led to her radicalisation. If there is evidence to suggest that she committed a crime then she should be prosecuted. She must also be assessed for the risk that she poses to Britain but equally protected against vigilantism and retribution. Shamima should be also be assessed to see if she is fit to be a parent and if necessary her child should be taken into care.

This is what it means to have due process and to live in a country with the rule of law. We should not so easily surrender our freedoms which have been so hard-fought for. We have in this country courts, judicial structures and the security institutions of the state. At a time when it is vital for Britain to retain its reputation as a strong and proud nation, we cannot just close our eyes and pull up the drawbridge.