Sajid Javid stands accused of “playing politics” after IS teen Shamima Begum was stripped of her British citizenship.
According to a letter sent to Begum’s family, the home secretary, who is viewed as a leading candidate to replace Theresa May, ordered the move against the 19-year-old Londoner on Tuesday.
It followed appeals from Begum to be allowed to return to the UK after she fled Bethnal Green for Syria as a 15-year-old to join the Islamic State terror group.
Javid now faces claims he is prepared to flout international law in order to pitch for the Tory leadership.
International rules forbid making people stateless by revoking their only citizenship, but it is possible Begum, who is of Bangladeshi heritage, held dual citizenship.
Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s home affairs and justice spokeswoman and a barrister, told HuffPost UK: “Unless this young woman holds dual citizenship the home secretary’s action may be in breach of international law. There is also the welfare of an innocent child to be considered.
“One is left with the very strong suspicion that the home secretary is more concerned with playing to the gallery and furthering his leadership ambitions than with due process.”
Begum was part of a trio of girls from Bethnal Green Academy to travel to the war-torn nation to support the terror group in February 2015.
Her family’s lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee, described her family as “very disappointed” over the move and said they are “considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision”.
The letter to her family read: “Please find enclosed papers that relate to a decision taken by the Home Secretary, to deprive your daughter, Shamima Begum, of her British citizenship.
“In light of the circumstances of your daughter, the notice of the Home Secretary’s decision has been served of file today (19 February), and the order removing her British citizenship has subsequently been made.”
— ITV News (@itvnews) February 19, 2019
Begum’s case was thrust back into the public eye after a reporter for The Times found the teenager heavily pregnant living in a refugee camp in northern Syria.
She gave birth to a boy over the weekend, having already lost two children, and used an interview with the newspaper to issue pleas for forgiveness, but her case has deeply divided opinion.
Javid’s decision to deny her re-entry to the UK follows an interview by Begum with the BBC on Monday, in which she compared the Manchester Arena bombing to military assaults on Syria.
Javid’s move provoked a strong reaction on social media, with some viewing it as a failure to defend human rights and others as a naked bid for the Tory top job.
This feels dangerously like playing politics: you can’t leave anyone stateless under the ECHR or UK human right law as-is.
We are not supposed to only defend human rights when it is easy. That’s the point of them, and part of what makes us better than ISIS. https://t.co/pFFbQyXwhq
— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) February 19, 2019
When you realise Sajid Javid is desperate to be the next Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, everything he does makes perfect sense.
— Kevin Schofield (@PolhomeEditor) February 19, 2019
Begum does not have citizenship of another state, so unclear how this works. But Javid won’t mind a fight – even a losing fight – in which he is trying to exclude The Jihadi Bride (see: Ed Balls / S. Shoesmith) https://t.co/h33A2r6iKN
— Chris Cook (@xtophercook) February 19, 2019
The move was popular among some Conservatives, however.
— Julian Knight MP (@julianknight15) February 19, 2019
— Mark Wallace (@wallaceme) February 19, 2019
Begum’s crime is betrayal. Her choice-even if not violent-to side with an enemy who wants to kill us is wrong. She’s not alone. Others have done the same, siding with enemies. We need to update our treason law. Read my ideas for @Policy_Exchange here: https://t.co/XQeZm4JeK8
— Tom Tugendhat (@TomTugendhat) February 19, 2019
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has signalled Begum could be arrested and investigated if she returns to Britain.
When the teenager left the UK, the then chief of counter-terror policing Sir Mark Rowley suggested that she might be treated as a victim of grooming.
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Sir Ed Davey, meanwhile, Begum should face justice for any terrorism crimes in the UK.
“It is not only hard to see Ms Begum and her baby as constituting a serious threat to national security, but it also seems a huge wasted opportunity,” he added.
“We can learn lessons as to why a young girl went to Syria in the first place – lessons which could improve Britain’s security by helping us prevent this happening again.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “In recent days the Home Secretary has clearly stated that his priority is the safety and security of Britain and the people who live here.
“In order to protect this country, he has the power to deprive someone of their British citizenship where it would not render them stateless.
“We do not comment on individual cases, but any decisions to deprive individuals of their citizenship are based on all available evidence and not taken lightly.”