Drawing Subjecthood and Citizenship: A Portrait of Self-Resembling Faces

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Modern British citizenship was first set out in statutory form in the British Nationality Act 1948 in close conjunction with subjecthood. It presents itself as being about formal equality of legal status but often is unequal in its scope, content and operation. Both in the field of cancellation of citizenship, and in recent hostile environment legislation on proving one’s citizenship status, citizenship has been exclusionary of ethnic minority people. It reifies categories of second class citizenship (Bosniak 2002) and makes citizenship conditional. In the Pham Case in Court of Appeal [2018] EWCA Civ 2064, Arden, L.J, writes in findings applicable only to naturalised citizens who are threats to national security that , “.. the appellant has over a significant period of time fundamentally and seriously broken the obligations which apply to him as a citizen and put at risk the lives of others whom the Crown is bound to protect. I do not consider that it would be sensibly argued that this is not a situation in which the state is justified in seeking to be relieved of any further obligation to protect the appellant.” This allegiance approach to citizenship is strikingly similar to subjecthood which was based on loyalty to the king and state in earlier times. Indeed, even when it gave an illusion of formal equality, subjecthood tended to foster tremendous inequality both in England and overseas in the colonies and dominions. The central argument of this paper is that subjecthood and citizenship are cousins with close familial resemblance in terms of underlying concepts. Contextually placing subjecthood and citizenship in various backdrops it is possible to identify similarities such as the promise of rights, the indeterminacy of form, a pragmatic policy linked categorical operation, and a strong role in demographic control.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNorthern Ireland Legal Quarterly
Publication statusSubmitted - 2020


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