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Adam Smith Inst - End second-class British citizenship

A new paper by the neoliberal think tank the Adam Smith Institute, argues British citizenship law is out of date and in need of a comprehensive overhaul, and that there are classes of British nationals without full automatic residency and work rights in the United Kingdom that amount to second class citizenship.

There is widespread public support for long-term British residents to become citizens, the think tank argues, with acquisition of British citizenship seen as part of successful integration.

However in recent years Windrush migrants, armed forces veterans, residual British nationals and other long-term United Kingdom (UK) residents have all been victims of immigration and nationality requirements and fees that are inflexible, over-prescriptive and extortionate. Immigration fees, first introduced in 2003, have risen 15-fold since then with a family of four looking at shelling out £15,000 to become full British citizens. 

Many of those forced to pay such fees have been living in the UK for decades, or were born under British rule overseas. The think tank argues that it is wrong to subject harsh tests to people who, by right or service or decades lived, are already part of the UK’s national community. Instead, the report’s authors argue that the Government should equalize the status of everyone whose Britishness the UK has acknowledged through partial citizenship or national status, and that fees are waived for. 

The call comes as Hong Kongers with British National (Overseas) status gain residency and work rights in the UK and after a number of recent scandals such as Windrush citizens being denied citizenship and ex-military personnel unable to stay in the UK despite years of service to the Crown. 

Recent Chinese moves to remove recognition of BN(O) passports raise fears of further moves to remove rights of movement and citizenship of those that take up the right to work and live in the UK, and the free market think tank says that to leave Hong Kongers in the UK without full residency would in effect leave them stateless,and stuck in limbo.

The report makes three recommendations to the Government should it wish to fulfil the United Kingdom’s historic duties and better facilitate integration:

  1. Make physical residence requirements for citizenship simpler and more flexible—nationality law should not duplicate pre-settlement residence tests that can be adequately addressed in the Immigration Rules;

  2. Reduce immigration and nationality fees, including abolishing fees for armed forces veterans, NHS key workers, residual British nationals and children; and

  3. Provide British citizenship to all residual classes of British nationals, who should be privileged over foreign nationals in all pathways to British citizenship.

Former Conservative Leader and Co-Chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) Sir Iain Duncan Smith, says:

“The UK government has made a generous offer to allow BNO passport holders in Hong Kong to come to the UK and reside here in the UK. However the process of registration, as pointed out in this excellent report by the Adam Smith Institute, is still too complex and too difficult. The report makes two sensible recommendations; first to automatically confer British citizenship on residual classes of British nationals - which they point out was the case for Falkland Islanders in 1983 and second, by making it easier for British nationals to register as British citizens.

"Both these seem reasonable and should be adopted by the government so that we are able to offer a welcome and a proper home for those fleeing persecution as is the case for the Hong Kong Chinese.”

Co-Author of the paper Andrew Yong, a human rights lawyer and Director of GlobalBritons, says:

“As Britain strikes a renewed path as an independent nation with a global outlook and history, it is time to reassess how we recognize through citizenship those—such as long-term Commonwealth migrants, British armed forces veterans and residual British nationals—who by ties of history and service are in all important respects already part of our national community. We believe that there are simple steps that we can and should take to make the pathway to citizenship simpler, fairer and more consistent with the principles of the British nation.”

Johnny Patterson, Policy Director of Hong Kong Watch, says:

"The introduction of the BNO policy provides the perfect opportunity for the rationalisation of British nationality law. 

The idea in this report of one bespoke 'Global Britons' category fits the bill. It is an historic injustice that those holding British nationality overseas - whether that is BNOs or British Overseas Citizens - are subject to such stringent immigration fees and sometimes tougher visa requirements than foreign nationals. No British national should pay to become a British citizen."

Notes to editors:  

For further comments or to arrange an interview, contact Matt Kilcoyne: | 07904 099599.

Henry Hill is a freelance writer and News Editor of ConservativeHome. 

Andrew Yong is a human rights lawyer and director of GlobalBritons, who advocate for equal citizenship rights for all British nationals.

The Adam Smith Institute is a free market, neoliberal think tank based in London. It advocates classically liberal public policies to create a richer, freer world.

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