Does Assad Spouse Have a Right to Keep UK Citizenship?
The Brits are looking to strip Asma al-Assad of her UK citizenship, this in the wake of the imposition of various sanctions on her and family members of other Assad associates. Familial sanctions are an increasingly common practice, on the theory that you really get at the bad guys when you deprive their spouses of shopping trips to world capitals. (In Mrs. Assad’s case, the theory seems pretty plausible, in light of the recent email cache revealing her attention to trivial luxury purchases while Homs burned.) But so long as Asma is a citizen, she has an absolute right of entry into the UK, whose citizenship she enjoys by birthright. Sort of awkward.
The expatriation statute at play here allows the Home Secretary to terminate the nationality of any British national where it “would be conducive to the public good” and would not result in statelessness. The standard was adopted in 2006 in the wake of the London subway bombings. It’s been put to work, but sparingly, as described in this Guardian story. The most notable case involved sometime GTMO detainee David Hicks, who enjoyed UK citizenship for exactly one day before losing it under the measure.
Problem, from a human rights standpoint? Possibly. Expatriation these days against an individual’s will is increasingly rare. The British measure is essentially standardless. (It previously required a showing of conduct “seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom.” However unseemly they may be, Asma’s shopping trips probably don’t rise to that level of damage.) More problematic, the law discriminates against dual nationals (mononationals are exempted because they would become stateless). That’s something that’s surprisingly rare outside the context of political office-holding. There aren’t many contexts in which dual citizens take a distinctive hit because of the status. Why should they?
It might make sense just to let Asma’s citizenship lie. She’s unlikely to be making jaunts to London anytime soon. Even as a citizen, since her assets have been frozen she wouldn’t be able to do much there. Once the Assad regime tumbles, the UK is unlikely to supply a comfortable resting spot for her or her family. Unsympathetic as she may be, she’s not getting much out of the British tie at the same time that the UK is hardly tainted by the nominal association.