One of the advantages – or possible disadvantages, depending on which way one looks at it – of writing a blog over the course of what is nearly a year now is that one can follow the painfully slow course of events as they grind their way though our chronically underfunded judicial system. My entry on July 17th was about the Court of Appeal’s decision that Shamima Begum, the London schoolgirl who had been successfully groomed by Isis to join them in Syria at the age of fifteen, should be allowed back into the UK to present her appeal against the removal of her British citizenship, and our unspeakable Home Secretary, Priti Patel’s, vindictive decision immediately to appeal that ruling in the Supreme Court.
On Friday the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the Court of Appeal’s ruling on the grounds that Ms Begum didn’t need to be in this country to be able to make a ‘fair and effective’ appeal. The Court of Appeal had recognised in approving the initial appeal that there might be security implications involved in Ms Begum’s returning to UK to present her case: ‘Ms Begum should be allowed to come to the United Kingdom to pursue her appeal albeit subject to such controls as the secretary of state deems appropriate.’ But the Supreme Court judgement asserted that there was ‘no basis for the Court of Appeal’s finding that the national security concerns about Begum could be addressed and managed by her being prosecuted or subjected to Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIM) on her return.’ Patel’s triumphalism in response to the Supreme Court’s verdict was wholly predictable: ‘The Supreme Court has unanimously found in favour of the government’s decision, and reaffirmed the home secretary’s authority to make vital national security decisions.’
Before too many champagne corks are popped by the assorted Islamophobes and/or indiscriminate racists whose support Priti Patel must be assuming in her celebration of our newly independent sovereign state’s ability to sock it to a stateless 21-year old woman languishing in a Syrian detention camp, it might be a good idea to look a bit more closely at what the highest courts in the land have said. The Appeal Court said that to protect the safety of the British public Shamima Begum should be subject to whatever controls Patel might deem necessary – which would obviously include imprisonment. It is difficult to interpret Patel’s immediate decision to appeal that verdict as anything other than an admission that she has no appropriate controls. The Supreme Court then backed this up by saying that there was no basis for the Appeal Court’s finding ‘that the national security concerns about Begum could be addressed and managed by her being prosecuted of subjected to TPIM on her return.’
So Patel’s triumphalist assertion of her success in winning her appeal is, in effect, a celebration of the fact, now endorsed by the highest courts in the land, that there is nothing the state can do to protect us as citizens of the UK against the threat of terrorism we would incur by allowing a 21-year old woman who may or may not be harbouring terroristic inclinations (we have no means of knowing) back into the country to present her appeal in person against being rendered stateless. The arbitrary decision by our previous Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, to deprive Begum of her citizenship and render her stateless in the context of the refusal of Bangladesh to grant her citizenship was, of course, contrary to international law and this was implicitly recognised by the Supreme Court: ‘Although [Begum] cannot be rendered stateless, the loss of her British citizenship may nevertheless have a profound effect upon her life….’ But the Supreme Court decided, nevertheless, that ‘it would be irresponsible for the court to allow the appeal without any regard to the interests of national security….’
So even when we know exactly who it is who might be a potential terrorist, and even though we can make sure that they are securely guarded throughout their time in our country if they are allowed back, either to be tried or to appeal against the illegal removal of their citizenship, our security services are so hopelessly useless that none of us would be safe. Given that Lizzie Dearden, the Independent’s home affairs correspondent, reports that 40 percent of the 900 people who left the UK to join one or other side in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are already back in the UK, we should presumably be very worried indeed about our safety. But then it is just possible that we are, in fact, reasonably safe, and that Priti Patel just happens to have chosen the unlucky (or criminally culpable, who knows without a fair trial) Shamima Begum as the victim for her vicious grandstanding as Patel plays her Strong Woman role for the benefit of her gallery of deplorables.