New Clause 4 - Minimum Income Requirement: Family members of British citizens with a connection to British Indian Ocean Territory

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 4 November 2021.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:30, 4 November 2021

I thank the Chagossians who spoke to the shadow Minister and myself, and Fragomen solicitors for facilitating that discussion and drafting the new clauses. As Members, and particularly Conservative Members, will know, Henry Smith, in whose constituency we find the UK’s largest Chagossian diaspora, has championed Chagossians for many years. On Second Reading I asked the Government to consider introducing a clause to rectify some of the injustices that Chagossians have faced for more than half a century. I understand that they will bring in an amendment on Report to do that, but today we seek to probe their initial thinking.

We could speak all day about how outrageously the Chagossians were treated by the UK and the US. They were removed from their islands simply to make way for an airbase, dumped in Mauritius and elsewhere and basically forgotten about. There are myriad injustices that are still to be put right. The new clauses do not fix everything, but they would fix significant injustices in relation to nationality—exactly what part 1 of this Bill was supposed to do—and family. Some Chagossians would benefit from provisions in part 1 of this Bill, which is welcome, but the Bill needs to go much further if they are to have access to the citizenship that is rightly theirs and that has been denied them only by the outrageous events of the late 1960s and the early 1970s.

As we touched on during debates on part 1, citizenship by descent in British and British overseas territories’ nationality law usually stretches to only one generation. If someone moves abroad, the children they have there will be British by descent, but if those children remain abroad and later have kids they would not be able to pass on that British citizenship. That reflects the idea that the family have made a voluntary decision to loosen their links to the UK and to build a new life elsewhere. Therefore, citizenship of the country where they now live is probably more appropriate.

Exceptions are made—for example, if the only reason the person was abroad was Crown service or if the parent who could not pass on citizenship has actually lived in the UK for three years previously or goes on to do so. All of that illustrates the point that reflecting the idea of a voluntary link to the UK justifies continued transmission of UK citizenship.

None of that can apply to the Chagossians; the situation there is obviously manifestly different. The only reason why Chagossians cannot pass on their British overseas territory citizenship is that they were forcibly removed from their islands. Nobody chose to make a new life in Mauritius or anywhere else—far from it. Nobody can say that they have voluntarily chosen to take on a new identity elsewhere. Any undermining or breaking of the link was completely forced on them in quite the most outrageous circumstances; that in itself should be enough to justify new clause 15.

The knock-on effect is that when the law was changed in 2002, while some Chagossians became British citizens as well as British overseas territory citizens, others missed out. They are now in the horrible situation where some have the right to rekindle their British identity and return here, but others do not. If I was a Chagossian whose parent was born just before being forcibly removed from the islands, and was therefore BOTC by birth, I am likely to be in a far better position than, for example, my cousin whose parents were born just days after being forced from the islands, and therefore cannot transmit their BOTC or British citizenship. When introducing the Bill, the Home Secretary said that it would mean children unfairly denied British overseas territory citizenship will finally be able to acquire citizenship, as well as British citizenship. What happened to the Chagossians, and what they still face today, is an absolute scandal. The least that we can do is ensure that all of them can access the nationality that the UK and US action deprived them of.

New clause 4 would fix another unfairness. I absolutely detest the restrictive rules that the Home Office has put in place on family visas, which say that someone must be earning certain sums of money before they can bring their non-national spouse or children here. Putting that to one side for the moment, even accepting the Government’s own logic, these provisions should not apply to the spouses and family members of Chagossians. Essentially, the Government logic is that if people choose to build a family life elsewhere and then come back to the UK, they should have certain financial means to support themselves and knowledge of the UK. However, again, Chagossians did not choose to make their family life outside British overseas territories—that was forced on them. It would now be totally unfair to restrict the right to come to the UK by imposing those rules on the families as if this was a choice they made.

It was a step in the right direction to provide British citizenship to some in 2002, but it is cruel to deny effective access to these routes by denying family members the right to come here. It is particularly cruel, given that the reason many will not be able to meet the financial threshold is the horrendous way they have been treated for decades and the extraordinary deprivation they have had to endure. I hope the Home Office will look to fix two of the many injustices that have been visited on the Chagossians.