Dominic Grieve and Sajjad Karim: One Nation Conservatism is incompatible with two-tier British citizenship

6 Jan

Dominic Grieve QC is a former attorney general and the former Conservative MP for Beaconsfield. Sajjad Karim is the former MEP for Northwest England, former legal affairs spokesperson for Conservatives in the European Parliament.

It is a central tenet of modern conservatism that all the Queen’s subjects are entitled to equality and security under the law, and to share in the rights and freedoms that being a British citizen offers to each of us.

Along with a reputation for sound economic management, it has been one of the most successful offers the Conservative Party has presented to the electorate.

This makes it all the stranger that the current Government seems not to understand the deeply negative impact of its own amendment of Clause 9 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which has just passed the House of Commons.

It allows the Home Secretary to exercise a power to remove, without prior notice and without the statutory right of appeal, British nationality from any dual national or person deemed capable of claiming an alternative nationality on the grounds that this would be conducive to the public good. There is no other country that gives its government such a without-notice power.

The Government argues correctly that the power to deprive a person of citizenship is over a century old. But, when created, it was aimed solely at individuals who had obtained citizenship by naturalisation and then been found to have obtained it by fraud or acted criminally or incompatibly with that citizenship subsequently. It was the last Labour Government which, in its concerns about terrorism, extended this principle to dual nationals who were born British.

The use of this power has really grown in the last few years as it has been applied principally to persons who have left the UK to adhere to terrorist organisations abroad. In doing so it has highlighted the (probably unintended) creation of two distinct tiers of citizenship.

There are estimated to be some six million people in our country who have or are eligible for dual nationality. Most are from ethnic minorities, but it also includes all British citizens born in Northern Ireland.

Unlike the rest of the Queen’s subjects, they are now, at least technically, at risk of losing their British nationality without notice on an administrative decision.

The fact the Government argues it has no intention of doing any such thing does not lessen the sense for many from immigrant backgrounds that they are being treated as second-class citizens – an impression that the Windrush scandal has shown, in a specific instance, to have been true.

Nor does it help that this measure being included in a Bill that is regrettably suffused with measures that will be unworkable in practice, are unrelated to fighting terrorism, are seen to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment, and likely to put us in breach of international law. Creating a power for forced boat push-backs by the UK Border Force, and giving those who do this immunity from prosecution for the potential consequences, reinforces an impression that the Government is willing to put the lives of those immigrants claiming asylum at risk.

Similarly, the proposal cannot be divorced from the Government’s plans for scrapping the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a ‘Bill of Rights’. This appears designed to make the protection of the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the Government insists we will remain adherent, less accessible to those in immigrant communities most likely to need its protection in respect of deportation.

In the Policing Bill, the Government is also seeking to clamp down on rights of peaceful protest by giving unprecedented powers to the Home Secretary for its control and removing the right ever to do so in the vicinity of Parliament.

Taken together it creates an impression of authoritarian illiberalism. Not surprisingly, they are particularly ill-viewed in Scotland and Wales, which reinforces the sense of disunity in our country.

The irony, is that in the case of the measures to remove British citizenship they are, as was pointed out by David Davis MP, completely unnecessary for the deprivation policy to be operated. The Government seems to have completely lost sight of another key Conservative principle that in addressing problem policy areas, it should do so with the minimum of interference with liberties necessary to deliver pragmatic and sensible outcomes. Instead, it is using legislation as a form of propaganda.

Conservative MPs and Peers still have an opportunity working together to introduce some common sense and proportionality into this legislation. Amending Clause 9 would send out a powerful signal that One Nation Conservatism is for the benefit of all British citizens.

Ed McGuinness: Children need to be taught what it means to be a member of our civic society

18 Nov

Ed McGuinness is a founder of Conservatives in the City, and contested Hornsey & Wood Green at the last General Election.

I have found myself (re)watching The West Wing, one of my favourite TV shows of the early 2000s on Channel 4. Immersing oneself in the machinations of an idealistic US political drama focusing on a Democratic president is perhaps not the most obvious choice for a Conservative like me but it’s fiction, it’s fun and it offers a unique perspective on some issues alongside a tone of aspiration I find refreshing in what can be a brutal realpolitik. A character who is more idealistic than most is the affable, nerdy deputy communications director Sam Seaborne, played by Rob Lowe, who often reaches for the stars.

One quote which always sticks with me is whilst discussing with his on-screen love interest he says:

“Education is the silver bullet.”

This I totally agree with and I do not think falls under the ideological banner outside of realism. Education should be about preparing young people to enter and be fully integrated members of society. Note carefully, I do not mean contributors to society. Contributors to society implies that education need only furnish people with the skills to “make” something (be that a widget or something more intangible). To be fully integrated means not only being able to contribute to society, but to shape that society, to build it and help it to grow responsibly.

I think the UK covers, to a greater or lesser extent, the contributory factor quite well, although there is always more work to be done. As an example, in England, 52 per cent of pupils are achieving grades 5 or above in English and mathematics GCSE; an increase of around ten per cent on 2018/19. Those who go on to achieve degrees are earning an average of £27,400; up £2,200 from six years ago. Then there are non-academic qualifications and apprenticeships which consistently have over 700,000 participants each year.

However, there is a loss of focus on what it means to be a member of our civic society. The National Curriculum does actually cater for citizenship at KS3 and KS4 levels, but if indeed this is assessed, it is surely a side note given the many competing demands on teachers and schools. Charities can play an important role in this. Schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, the Scouts and Cadet Forces inculcate their members with a set of principles which strive to create a selflessness and desire to protect and preserve our society. I don’t agree that charities exist because it is an area in which Government has failed. The third sector has a huge part to play in providing targeted help to people that the large hand of government simply does not have the dexterity to do so.

The value of civic studies is one that is certainly not paid enough attention to in mainstream education and really ought to form a core part of the skillset we want to imbue our young people with which is as important as numeracy and literacy. A sense of ownership in society, a core Conservative principle, comes not just with physical property but with a more intangible feeling of empowerment in your community. For this reason I argue that a civic society element be implemented as part of a general qualification people must attain at each level of education.

In practice, this could be joining and participating in one of the aforementioned societies as a young teenager. It could also involve recorded voluntary work at residential homes or community projects. In higher education it could take the form of tutoring younger people or, as I did in my degree course, a module whereby I taught mathematics for a term in a local school in a more deprived area. In apprentice courses, it could involve taking part in seminars with younger people about your journey, why you chose an apprenticeship and its value, or perhaps volunteering your skills to a local charity or community group.

The pillars of the Government’s levelling-up strategy include (amongst others): Empowering local leaders and communities and restoring local pride. Both these things require knowledge of one’s community and a sense of achievement and belonging in it. To formalise, or require, a civic element to education, beyond learning the mechanics of elections and voting, surely is essential to the levelling-up agenda, but brings many benefits to society with people, and young people in particular, finding themselves in a position to influence society for the better and achieve a lot more than a grade on a paper.

In ending I will reference the US in another way, this time a real-life president who said:

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

By showing young people the value they possess through their addition to society the UK Government can do something for them but also have them do something for their country – creating that silver bullet.

Fabiano Farias: I’m a long-term UK resident. So why shouldn’t I have a vote?

22 Sep

Fabiano Farias is a Brazilian national, and has worked in cleaning, delivery, and private transport.

In April this year, a Brazilian friend living in Scotland told me they had just registered to vote for the upcoming elections. Excited, I rushed online to register for the London Mayoral elections only to discover I didn’t have the right.

During the 14 years I have lived in the UK, I have worked in a variety of jobs: cleaner, waiter, Uber driver, Amazon delivery, and Deliveroo, Uber Eats, and Stuart rider. I have always followed politics closely: hours driving gives you plenty of time to pay attention to the news. I also believe that as a resident, it’s my responsibility to know what the key issues are, new policies I should follow, and what I can do to support my community. This is key for me to be a full part of the place I choose to call home.

I have no intention of returning to Brazil. My life, my family members, my partner, and my closest friends are in the UK. At every opportunity, I like to travel within the UK, visiting museums, castles, and learning about the history.

There is, however, one thing I have not been able to do yet, and that is vote in elections. I do look forward to saving and applying to become a naturalised British citizen in the future. This, however, is a complex, long, and expensive process. There are more local elections happening next year, and I would like to have a say now.

As a courier, I have been affected by the implementation of the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). Delivery and taxi drivers working to tight deadlines were not consulted about these, and yet are the ones most affected. Similarly, the congestion charge increase to £15 is another blow to those like us who are out on the streets day in day out. If that wasn’t enough, the extended Ultra Low Emission Zone affects those who have no option but to gain their livelihoods in private transport. Before the day starts, many of us are already £27 in debt.

Housing is another issue Londoners face. Prices keep going up unmatched by housebuilding.

I was excited by Shaun Bailey’s manifesto before the London Mayoral elections, and equally upset that I do not have the vote. As someone who works hard, I believe in the Conservative Party and its goal to reward those who put the time and effort into what they do.

I believe, as a long term resident who cares about London and the community where I live, I should have the right to vote in local elections where the impact of policies can often be so directly and visibly felt. I was happy to see that residents were given the right to vote in the Senedd and Holyrood elections and thought the rest of the UK would soon follow, especially now that the UK is out of the European Union.

Many other countries across the world also offer residents, and not just citizens, the right to vote in local elections. New Zealand goes as far as giving all residents the right to vote in national elections. I believe residence-based voting rights, at least in local elections, is an inevitable development considering places like London and the whole of the UK are so globalised.

As a Brazilian migrant in the UK, I often felt it was unfair that EU citizens had so many privileges over other migrants, including having the right to vote in local elections. With the Government’s promises of a future Global Britain, all residents, no matter where they were born, should be given a chance to have their say in their communities and how the public services they pay for through council tax are run. This is not necessarily about giving migrants the vote. It’s about giving residents, neighbours, workers, and service users, equal rights, as well as responsibilities.

I know the administration of elections in the UK is being reviewed with the Elections Bill and there are calls for all residents to have the right to vote in local elections. I hope these are adopted by the Government so people like me have the right to vote in local elections. It would certainly increase my sense of belonging in the UK. Integration is rightly encouraged by politicians. The right to vote would help develop that sense of active participation.

Often, it is assumed that migrants will not vote Conservative. It’s unwise to assume. Migrants are a diverse community with different realities and experiences. It’s only fair we are given the chance to make our different voices heard.

David Simmonds: The Nationality and Borders Bill must ensure our immigration system is fir­­­­­m but fair

4 Aug

David Simmonds is the MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner and Chairman of the APPG on Migration.

I was pleased to be able to speak in the House of Commons on the second reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill last week. It is an important Bill, which aims to increase the fairness of the system to better protect and support those in need of asylum, deter illegal entry into the UK, thereby breaking the business model of people smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger and remove those with no right to be in the UK more easily.

The Nationality section of the Bill has not received much attention even though it performs the important role of fixing outdated nationality laws. This Bill gives the Home Secretary power to grant British citizenship to people who would have become British citizens if not for unfairness and exceptional circumstances beyond their control.

It provides further flexibility to waive residency requirements, to help members of the Windrush Generation and others acquire British citizenship more quickly. And it will mean children unfairly denied British Overseas Territories Citizenship will finally be able to acquire British citizenship.

I also welcome some of the measures which have been announced to strengthen the immigration system. I have personally seen, on a visit to the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, smugglers driving around offering a list of services with being smuggled into the UK in a British-plated car with a British driver as one of the more expensive options and a much more dangerous channel crossing or breaking into a lorry as the cheaper options.

This has led to some particularly hideous cases in the UK where large numbers of refugees have died in the hands of those criminals because of the way in which they are being smuggled into our country, so it is absolutely right that we do everything in our power to tackle people smugglers.

Alongside the focus on people smugglers and channel crossings, media coverage of the Bill has been dominated by the power to treat refugees differently, depending on the nature of their arrival in the UK and whether they have come to the UK directly from a country where their life or freedom was threatened.

In parallel to this power, I would like to see an expansion of safe and legal routes to ensure that those who are fleeing persecution are able to settle in the UK. I welcome the Home Secretary’s recent announcement that from October, refugees resettled into the UK will be granted indefinite leave to remain on arrival in the UK, free of charge.

The announcement of an emergency resettlement mechanism working with the UN refugee agency which will identify refugees in need of emergency resettlement from anywhere in the world and fast-track them into the UK, will cut down on bureaucracy and enable resettlement in a matter of weeks.

As I have written before, the Syrian refugee resettlement scheme has been a great British success story and we should model our response to future resettlement based upon it.  However, we must understand that we cannot undertake resettlement on the cheap. The Syrian refugee resettlement scheme was well-funded and because of the additional resources and checks, it garnered a huge amount of public goodwill and was effective in securing public confidence.

Of course, as a Conservative I completely appreciate, now more than ever, that we must be responsible in spending taxpayer’s money. We already spend an eye-watering sum of money on the asylum system; over £1 billion a year. An easy way to significantly reduce the cost of the asylum system would be to end the ban on asylum seekers working.

At the moment, asylum seekers are effectively banned from working and are forced to claim benefits. Lifting the ban would instantly see benefits paid to asylum seekers reduced considerably, tax receipts would increase as well as allowing highly qualified asylum seekers to plug gaps in areas where we are seeing significant shortages. Cutting bureaucracy like this is especially vital now as policymakers begin to plan how they will pay down the huge Coronavirus debt.

Furthermore, the Government must not shunt the cost of the asylum system to local authorities in the form of attaching no recourse to public fund conditions (NRPF) to asylum seekers. People with NRPF do not have access to the welfare system, even if they have been paying into the system through their taxes. Migrants who become destitute often receive emergency support from local councils because of the statutory duty of local authorities to support vulnerable adults and families with children in their jurisdiction, further extending the black hole in council finances.

Instead, we must work towards a system which is tough on people smugglers and criminals who seek to take advantage of our hospitality but one that ensures we extend this hospitality to the most needy and vulnerable. A system that is efficient and works for taxpayers and local communities whilst providing support for refugees and opportunities for integration.

Global Britain? The ‘New Plan for Immigration’ looks like slow progress in the right direction

24 Mar

One of the promises that helped to drive the Brexit vote was that to ‘take back control’ of immigration. Unlike the hard targets set (and missed) by previous governments, ‘control’ is as much a matter of perception as anything.

Thus since the referendum public concern about immigration has waned, even before the Government introduced its long-awaited points-based immigration system – which as we noted last year actually gives Ministers huge scope to make the actual regime as liberal as it needs to be.

But it is also why the issue of the Channel boats is so potentially damaging. Even if the total numbers of people crossing this way are small, the phenomenon is a visible symptom of loss of control. It could thus undermine public confidence in the Government’s entire approach to an extent far in excess of its actual impact. And as the Home Office shows in its new policy statement, New Plan for Immigration (NPI), small boat crossings have in any event ballooned to 50 per cent of all ‘detected irregular arrivals to the UK’ during 2020.

So something was going to have to be done. But what?

A two-tier asylum system

Of all the changes in the NPI, the most eye-catching is the creation of a two-tier asylum system. Put simply, an applicant’s pathway and odds will be very different depending on whether or not they reached this country via legal means. From Chapter 4 of NPI:

  • “Ensure those who arrive in the UK, having passed through safe countries, or who have a connection to a safe country where they could have claimed asylum, will be considered inadmissible to the UK’s asylum system;
  •  Seek rapid removal of inadmissible cases to the safe country from which they embarked or to another safe third country;
  • Introduce a new temporary protection status with less generous entitlements and limited family reunion rights for people who are inadmissible but cannot be returned to their country of origin (as it would breach international obligations) or to another safe country;”

Or as described from the perspective of of the lobby group Refugee Action: “…these reforms punish refugees simply for how they enter the country, creating an unjust “two-tier” system of refuge.”

But the Home Office’s logic makes sense. Dismantling people-trafficking networks is a complex and time-consuming business, but an elementary step is taking away the prize that criminals use to persuade people to pay for their services. It is also fair to point out that anybody crossing to the UK from France is already in a safe country in which they could claim asylum – and has almost certainly passed through several more.

Carrot and stick

NPI backs up this bifurcation of the asylum process with both carrots and sticks – although being a Home Office document, the ratio favours the sticks.

On the carrot side, Chapter 2 sets out various ways in which the Government aims to “strengthen the safe and legal ways in which people can enter the UK”. These include making the system more flexible so it can adapt to emerging crises, giving the Home Secretary new means to help people “in extreme need of safety”, more integration support, and efforts to help applicants who actually qualify under the points-based system to immigrate that way.

The sticks are more numerous, and set out in greater detail in subsequent chapters. The central features are reforms to the appeals process to prevent failed applicants and their lawyers gaming the system, plans for offshore processing of claims, measures to improve the rate of removal for Foreign National Offenders (FNOs), et al.

Appeal reform is the bit that’s likely to really rile the lawyers. From Chapter Five: “Our end-to-end reforms will aim to reduce the extent to which people can frustrate removals through sequential or unmeritorious claims, appeals or legal action, while maintaining fairness, ensuring access to justice and upholding the rule of law.” According to NPI, this will be effected by introducing a ‘one-stop’ system, which basically means that an applicant must present all their potential grounds for staying in Britain at once, instead of appealing on one and then another if that appeal fails.

Citizenship reform: a missed opportunity

Chapter 3 outlines “reforms we will make to British Nationality law will finally address historical anomalies”. But it ducks the bold, comprehensive overhaul this area really needs.

Giving the Home Office more flexibility to waive the rules which saw Windrush victims barred from claiming British citizenship because the Home Office had locked them out of the country are obviously welcome and overdue. So too is giving the Home Secretary “an ability to grant citizenship in compelling and exceptional circumstances where there has been historical unfairness beyond a person’s control”, although the acid test of that will be whether the various Commonwealth servicemen fighting to stay here qualify for such an intervention.

But despite boasting in the foreword about the Government’s bold decision to create a new pathway to citizenship for Hong Kongers with British National (Overseas) passports, Patel makes no mention of reducing the excessive hoops that such people need to qualify for residency and citizenship in the UK compared to other Commonwealth nations such as Canada. Nor has she taken the opportunity offered by the move on BN(O)s to offer the same generous treatment to the relatively small number of people with other forms of second-class British citizenship, such as British Overseas Citizens.

I recently teamed up with Andrew Yong of the Global Britons campaign to write a paper for the Adam Smith Institute setting out some concrete, practical steps the Home Office could take to put some meat on the bones of the ‘global Britain’ rhetoric. It’s unfortunate that the Government has decided, for now, to continue to render people with British passports effectively stateless.

Will it work?

Politically, the most salient part of this report will be the parts focusing on asylum overhaul. Whilst NPI doesn’t include actual criteria by which it could be judged a success or failure, two obvious potential pitfalls spring to mind.

First, the UK is currently bound to a web of international commitments and legal obligations in this area, and the proposals will doubtless be subject to legal challenge. A thought which might lend some urgency to the Government’s parallel overhaul of judicial review.

Second, there’s the simple question of enforcement. Shiny new processes won’t add up to much if people continue to simply abscond. The introduction of immigration concerns as a new ground for refusing bail, and plans to expand the ‘asylum estate’ and reduce reliance on off-site facilities such as hotels have clearly been included with this in mind.

Alberto Costa: There are too many barriers to Britishness. Post-Brexit, it’s time for a more welcoming citizenship policy.

10 Dec

Alberto Costa is the MP for for South Leicestershire.

Citizenship, being British, plays a foundational role in our society. It is a shared bond between us. Yet successive Labour and Conservative governments have neglected citizenship policy to such an extent that it’s been hard to tell if its aim has been to encourage people to become citizens or to try to deter them. We are now presented with an ideal moment to put that right.

With Britain having left the EU and with a new, points-based immigration system in place, our Prime Minister has an opportunity, as part of his Global Britain agenda, to be banging the drum for Britishness and a more positive, welcoming approach to citizenship for those who wish to settle and contribute to the UK.

The independent inquiry into citizenship policy, which I chaired for the respected think tank British Future, publishes its report today, setting out practical proposals for reform. Discussing these issues with the inquiry panel – which included fellow Conservative MP Steve Double and Fraser Nelson, Editor of The Spectator, as well as Andrew Gwynne MP from the Labour benches and voices from civil society – has strengthened my belief that we can galvanise a broad consensus for a positive citizenship agenda.

Research for the inquiry found two thirds of the British public agreeing that if someone decides to live in Britain long-term, it is a good thing if they have an opportunity to become British by taking citizenship. So it makes sense that UK citizenship policy should welcome those who want to make this commitment to our country and who pass the various tests of eligibility: speaking good English, being of good character, and knowing about the UK’s customs and culture.

Just as the new points-based immigration system draws on the experience of Australia and Canada, we could learn much from their approaches to citizenship too. The Canadian handbook for new citizens opens with a warm message of welcome from the Queen. However, Her Majesty does not appear in our Life in the UK handbook until page 121. It is a symbolic point – but we could very simply and easily emulate that welcoming, positive tone towards those who are seeking to become British.

If we agree that becoming British is to be welcomed (and I would hope all Conservatives would welcome full integration of those contributing to our country), citizenship should not be placed beyond the financial reach of, for instance, many social care or NHS staff and their families, nor be so complicated that most people can’t apply without a lawyer. If we believe that it can aid integration, we should make it easier, not harder, for children born here to become citizens.

British citizenship is special – but we do not make it special by setting unnecessary barriers. ConservativeHome readers may be shocked to learn that the cost of citizenship in the UK is the highest in the western world. Indeed, the combined cost of applying for citizenship in Australia, Canada, the USA and France still does not add up to the cost of a single application in Britain. The fee of £1,330 is almost four times the cost to the Home Office of processing an application.

As part of the latest Global Britain agenda, as Conservatives we are now seeking to attract the brightest and the best through our new points-based immigration system. A positive citizenship agenda would encourage those whom we are now seeking to attract and who have chosen our country as the place to contribute, settle, raise a family and pay their taxes, to take that extra step and consider citizenship. It should review citizenship policy – covering eligibility, processes and costs – to secure the benefits that citizenship can bring for shared identity and integration.

And at the end of the process when people do eventually become British citizens, we should welcome them and celebrate their becoming British – not hide the events away in some gloomy council building. New, high-profile citizenship ceremonies – held in iconic British locations such as the Palace of Westminster, Edinburgh Castle or Old Trafford – would send a clear message that this is something of which we can all be proud.

Our report goes on to propose an annual, high-profile ceremony where Her Majesty the Queen and the Prime Minister award honorary citizenship to a select number of people who have been outstandingly brave or made a great contribution to life in the UK, either as an individual or because they represent a particular group whose contribution is valued, such as NHS staff or those who helped develop the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine.

Debates about migration, and who can come to the UK, have now been largely settled. It is time to focus on the people who have made their lives here, and on ensuring that a Global Britain embraces those who want to contribute to our shared society. So it is my hope that the Prime Minister, and indeed all of us as Conservatives, will seize this opportunity to take a new, pro-Britishness approach to citizenship, welcoming those who have made this country their home.

Benjamin Obese-Jecty: It’s time the Government did right by Commonwealth veterans

25 Jun

Ben Obese-Jecty is a former British Army Infantry Officer and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

As we approach Armed Forces Day on the last Saturday of June, the nation will have the opportunity to celebrate our service personnel and show gratitude for the role they play within our society.

Though our operational footprint has reduced significantly over the past half-decade, the Army’s role in the Government’s coronavirus response has seen an uncharacteristically high domestic profile not seen since their mobilisation for the 2012 London Olympics.

The British public holds an affinity for the Armed Forces that is an integral part of our national identity. But over the past two decades as the Armed Forces have struggled to meet recruitment targets it has increasingly relied upon service personnel from the Commonwealth to reduce this manpower deficit. The Royal British Legion puts the number at in excess of 6000 personnel, with circa five per cent of the Army’s strength alone comprised of soldiers from the Commonwealth.

Whilst these personnel face the same hardships and hazards on operations as their British colleagues, those who leave the Armed Forces do so without the automatic guarantee of residency or citizenship of the nation for which they have served. Following several high-profile instances highlighting the pitfalls of the process for Commonwealth veterans, it is vital that we seek to redress the disadvantage that the current system places upon them.

In the United States, non-US citizens become eligible for naturalisation following an honourable discharge from military service. The cost to those who have served is a mere $85 administration charge in return for full US citizenship.

Upon joining our Armed Forces, personnel from Commonwealth countries are granted ‘exempt immigration control’ status. However, it ceases to apply immediately upon discharge. The recent court case brought by eight Fijian veterans against both the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence has revealed the administrative complexity for those former service personnel who wish to remain in the UK following the completion of their service.

Given the current focus upon racial inequality, and the similarities with the Windrush scandal that it evokes, the Government has an urgent need to address this longstanding issue less it becomes a topic that expends yet more political goodwill. But how can this be achieved?

Current rules state that Commonwealth veterans qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after four years’ service, but in order to action this they must immediately apply to the Home Office upon discharge. Many Commonwealth veterans have found this opaque and not made sufficiently clear during the discharge process.

It would be both more efficient and inclusive to automate the application, making it a standard step of the discharge process, one that can be made opt-out rather than opt-in and ensure that no veterans are left without having exercised their option whilst still in uniform.

The issue is further complicated by a five-year residency requirement that excludes military service prior to 2014, owing to exemption from immigration control and potentially leaving some former service personnel outside the criteria. Addressing the gaps in this structure will ensure that all veterans have been given due consideration.

During the aforementioned court case a spokesman for the MoD stated that the department “makes clear to foreign and Commonwealth recruits into the forces the process by which they and their families can attain settlement in the UK, and the costs involved”. Whilst that may be the case, the £2389 per person cost for ILR is significant and confers no advantages or prioritisation for military service, in stark contrast to the costs of attaining full US citizenship.

Given that this disproportionately affects Commonwealth personnel from the lower ranks who may struggle to meet the costs involved, we should seek to waive these fees in return for their commitment to having served the country.

There will be those who have not pursued the legal right to remain in the UK following service due to the prohibitive costs they stood to incur. From my own experience, leaving the Army and embarking on a new career without the familiarity and structure of the military is a daunting enough prospect without the unnecessary additional hurdle of regularising your immigration status. To do so at a cost of thousands of pounds, via either a loan or use of their resettlement package, sets our Commonwealth veterans at an immediate disadvantage that could easily be mitigated.

Lastly, we should seek to broaden the scope of the changes to those who have already left the service; those who through choice, owing to the prohibitive expense, or administrative oversight, have been left without the status of ILR either here or in the country of their birth. Whilst we can do little to atone for the inconvenience and disruption caused to those who have been forced to return home, we can offer those eligible the opportunity to reapply retrospectively under the criteria outlined above, and allow them the opportunity to fulfil the potential plans they had prior to leaving.

Additionally, we should also consider how we can facilitate reimbursing those who have already had to outlay the fees required to stay. Given the comparatively low numbers of those affected, the gesture of goodwill would go some way to allowing our Commonwealth ex-service personnel to start their post-service careers on an equal footing with their fellow former servicemen and women without the burden of incurring a financial penalty for the privilege.

The status of Commonwealth veterans has been addressed by MPs on a number of occasions. Johnny Mercer, the Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, has been forthright in bringing veterans’ issues to the fore and ensuring that they are given the correct focus. However, there are still significant inequalities in how we treat some of those who pledged to defend this country.

As Conservatives, our admiration and respect for the Armed Forces goes hand-in-hand with the values we wish to uphold. As a Veteran I would like to see those I have served alongside given the same opportunities that I have enjoyed in forging a new life for themselves following their military careers.

There is arguably no greater service to the nation than defending it as a member of our Armed Forces. We owe those who have served, at the very least, the same basic privileges that they have risked their lives to defend.