Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Unnecessary Complexity.

Cory Doctorow of Boingboing (amongst other things) was naturalised as a British Citizen a few days ago. On Twittter, he expressed curiosity as to why on his citizenship certificate had the words "BRITISH CITIZEN" typed in, rather than bring one of the things printed on the blank certificate What else could it be?

Various people pointed out there there are various kinds of British nationality. I went through this process myself a few years ago, and I was curious and investigated the matter (too) thoroughly. The story is this. Every time I explain how one particular class of British nationality came into being, I will capitalise its name.

Prior to 1949, there was a single status of "British Subject" held by everywhere in the British Empire over which Britain was sovereign. There was also a status of "British Protected Person", for people in places with a British mandate over which Britain was not formally sovereign.

From 1949, independent Dominions and Colonies becoming independent created their own national citizenship statuses, and a new status of "Citizen of the UK and Colonies" (CUKC) was created for those who remained. The expression "British Subject" was retained as a carry-all for all citizens of Commonwealth countries, but it was the actual national citizenship that mattered. Generally, when a colony became independent, citizens of the new country did not retain CUKC status, although, there were a few situations in which some of them did. People in that country who were British subjects but did not gain citizenship of the new country generally did retain CUKC status. There were a few cases in which everyone in the independent country lost their British citizenship but not everyone received citizenship of the new country. Such people were British Subjects but not CUKCs. Finally, there was one case (Ireland) in which people who had lost British citizenship were invited to apply for British Subject status if they wanted to retain it.

When British Protectorates became independent, citizens of the new independent countries generally became citizens of the new countries, although there were a small number of people who for various reasons did not. These people remained BRITISH PROTECTED PERSONS, and still do.

In 1981, the Thatcher government decided to reform all this, and a various new classes of citizenship were created. The big change were that people CUKC status were split into three groups.

- People associated with the United Kingdom (including the Channel Island and the Isle of Man) became BRITISH CITIZENs.
- People associated with a still extant British colony became British Dependent Territory citizens (later renamed BRITISH OVERSEAS TERRITORIES CITIZENS). (BOTC)
- People associated with neither of these things (i.e. people who had gained citizenship and had for some reason also retained British citizenship became BRITISH OVERSEAS CITIZENS).

British Subject status was renamed "Commonwealth Citizenship" for everyone who was a citizen of a Commonwealth country, which left only those who had been British Subjects but not citizens of any commonwealth country (mostly in the Indian Subcontinent and Ireland) holding that status.

Only British Citizens and British Subjects associated with Ireland had the automatic right to live in the UK. It was (and is) possible to have BOTC status and British Citizen status simultaneously. BOTCs connected with Gibraltar have always had the right to obtain full British Citizenship by application in addition to BOTC status. (After the Falklands War, Falkland Islanders were given full British Citizenship in 1983, but I shall get to this in a moment).

Of course, at that time, the vast bulk of people who became BDTCs (later BOTCs) were in Hong Kong, and cynically, the purpose of the whole exercise was to deny Hong Kong Chinese the right to come to Britain prior to or after the handover of Hong Kong to Chine in 1997. I can't imagine why you would actually want to deny prosperous people from one of the world's most entrepreneurial places the right to come to the UK, but Margaret Thatcher did. As a slight sop to the Hong Kong Chinese. yet another type of British Citizenship was created in 1985. BDTCs in Hong Kong were allowed to register to become BRITISH NATIONAL (OVERSEAS) after they lost their BDTC status in 1997.

Once the job of screwing the Hong Kong Chinese was complete, the British discovered that they had no great objection to the small number of people in Britain's few remaining colonies from living in Britain, so in 2002, everyone with BOTC (unless it was associated with the British Sovereign bases in Cyprus) was given full British Citizenship, and people born to British citizens or anyone else permanently resident in any remaining colony was from that date a British Citizen by birth. This essentially duplicated a law that had been passed for the Falkland Islands only in 1983.

Essentially, almost everyone in the few remaining British Colonies (except for those bases in Cyprus) now has both full British Citizenship and BOTC status. Apart from the Cyprus thing: BOTC status has only one use. Although the British government has granted British Citizenship to virtually all remaining colonials, it has not delegated the power to naturalise people as British Citizens to colonial authorities. It has delegated the power to naturalise people as BOTCs. Once someone has been naturalised as a BOTC, they can then apply to Britain for registration as a British Citizen. This is normally granted, but the Home Office has a theoretical right of veto. (Gibraltarians have access to a route to British citizenship for which there is not right of veto given the the British government under the 1981 act, but nobody else does.

So, what does that leave us with:

British Citizenship is the normal kind of citizenship.
British Overseas Territories Citizenship is citizenship of Britain's remaining colonies, and is usually held concurrently with normal British Citizenship.
British Overseas Citizenship is for people who slipped through loopholes in the process intending to deny them citizenship during decolonisation, and were disenfranchised later.
British Protected Persons are people who slipped through loopholes in the process intending to deny them citizenship during decolonisation, but came from protectorates rather than colonies.
British Subject Status is for people who lost British Citizenship during the independence of India without gaining Indian or Pakistani Citizenship, or is for Irish people who wanted to remain British.
British Nationality (Overseas) is for the Hong Kong Chinese.

All of these except for the first two are residual categories of citizenship that it is not possible for new people to obtain, except perhaps in the case of a child born of parents with one of these statuses who does not obtain any other nationality at birth. It is only possible to be naturalised as a British Citizen or a British Overseas Territories Citizen, and these are the only things that could have been typed on Cory Doctorow's certificate. As people being naturalised as British Overseas Territories Citizens are normally naturalised in the Overseas Territories, there is some doubt as to why there is a need to leave a space for "British Citizen" to be typed on the form. It would presumably create less work by simply having a different certificates for those very rare to nonexistent occasions when BOTCs are naturalised in the UK.

One further question is which, if any, of the other types of citizenship are of any use to people holding them. Only British Citizenship automatically gives the right to reside anywhere. British Subject status gives you the right to live in the UK if that status is associated with Ireland, but BOTC status does not by itself give you the right to live anywhere: residency status of the particular overseas territory (colony) is normally granted separately. The British government will grant you a passport if you hold any of these statuses, but if the passport states that you have a citizenship status that does not give you the right to live anywhere or conversely anywhere that will take you if you are deported, other countries are likely to make the visa requirements onerous, and they do. The exception to this are British National (Overseas) passports, which are fairly easy to travel on as they indicate that you come from and (almost always) have the right to live in Hong Kong, which is a prosperous place.

And of course, the final thing is how does this all relate to the European Union. Well, under EU law, the following people are British Citizens for the purposes of also being EU citizens: British Citizens, excluding those associated only with the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man; British Subjects associated with Ireland, and BOTCs associated with Gibraltar. Falkland Islanders and Bermudans are automatically EU citizens, but Manxmen aren't, unless they have an association with the United Kingdom. To gain such an association they either have to have parents or grandparents who were born there or have such an association, or they have to have lived there for a time, which they easily can do as they have full British Citizenship rights in Britain. Just not in the rest of the EU.

And I am rambling.


Perry de Havilland said...

That is... complex!

harshini said...
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