February 24, 2024 - 1:00pm

Nine years since Shamima Begum left the UK to join Islamic State, and five since her British citizenship was stripped from her by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid, her long legal tussle with HM Government may finally be coming to an end. The Court of Appeal has ruled unanimously that Javid’s decision was lawful, and that none of the grounds for Begum’s challenge have any merit.  

In a week when the alleged Islamist threat to the functioning of Britain’s open democracy has once again been in the news, the Appeal Court’s decision must be welcomed as a sign that the British establishment may yet have some steel. Many have argued that the loss of citizenship is an unfair sanction, because Begum was only 15 when she travelled to Syria, or that stripping the citizenship of someone who was born here sets a bad precedent for the future. 

These arguments are unpersuasive. It is true that teenagers are highly impressionable and frequently act stupidly. Fifteen-year-old girls being attracted to the dark glamour of revolutionary violence is not unprecedented. But we can recognise that Begum’s situation is miserable, and that she is not entirely culpable, without concluding that the only right response is for her to return to Britain. 

There is a tragic dimension to human existence. Sometimes people do awful things which ruin their lives and the lives of others, like joining a savage terrorist organisation and participating in its atrocities, and there’s not much that can be done to resolve their situations without creating further or deeper injustices and dangers — in this case, hampering the British state’s ability to defend itself and assert its authority in the face of monstrous enemies. 

This brings us to the argument about the alleged injustice of removing citizenship from someone who was born in the UK. This is supposedly the thin end of the wedge: if the Home Office can do it to her they can do it to any of us, runs the argument. 

Yet, arguably, the Government is only recognising a simple reality which Begum has herself established: that she has no allegiance to or affection for Britain, beyond a transactional desire to benefit from the services and quality of life available here. 

What’s more, this is an age of sweeping demographic change, when many people resident in Britain hold UK citizenship while clearly retaining other loyalties. Consider the national flags on show at recent pro-Palestine marches, or the 2022 Indian-Pakistani communal violence in Leicester, or the blocking of London streets in November of last year by motorcades celebrating Albanian independence day.

In this context, it is vital that the state has tools at its disposal to recognise when someone’s Britishness is a matter of words on a page, and when they are an integrated member of society.

Niall Gooch is a public sector worker and occasional writer who lives in Kent.