12:57, November 22 183 0 theguardian.com

2018-11-22 12:57:09
Getting to grips with UK citizenship law

The issue is not, with respect to Amelia Gentleman (Windrush victims classified as criminals by the Home Office, 16 November), whether “good” Windrush victims are wrongly being categorised as “bad” immigrants with no right to remain or return. The law which has been in force since 1973 is unequivocal: Commonwealth citizens then resident in the UK became exempt from deportation once they had lived in the UK for over five years. None of the Windrush generation could legally be deported, no matter what crimes they had committed. The home secretary of all people ought to be aware that this is the law, it applies to “deserving” and “undeserving” alike, and there is no legal justification for excluding “criminal” deportees from rights to return and compensation.

Frances Webber

Vice-chair, Institute of Race Relations

I read with interest Kamila Shamsie’s piece on citizenship (Citizen of nowhere, Review, 17 November), but must correct one point. The British Nationality Act 1948 did not give “those who had been subjects of the empire … the right to be citizens of Britain”. All those born in the empire, or descended from a father born there, were British subjects in common law, with a right of entry to the UK. The common law was largely codified by the British Nationality Act 1914. So in 1948 anyone born in what had just become Pakistan was already a British subject as much as anyone born in the UK, and with as much right to enter the UK. (That’s what the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 was about.)

What the 1948 act chiefly did was transfer from UK law to the law of each independent Commonwealth country the rules on acquisition of British subjecthood, to be exercised by what have usefully been termed “gateway citizenships”. Thus Pakistani citizenship (and Australian, Canadian, Indian, etc citizenships) now conferred British subjecthood. The UK “gateway citizenship” was “Citizenship of the UK and Colonies”. The 1948 Act also coined the term “Commonwealth Citizenship” as a synonym for “British subject” (a point frequently misunderstood). Incidentally, the 1948 act was the first to use the term “citizenship” in this context.

Robin M White


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