How immigration law changed for Commonwealth citizens

27 April 2018
What was claimed

Theresa May changed the law to remove protection from Commonwealth citizens and Diane Abbott voted against the change.

Our verdict

Diane Abbott did vote against the law that changed the rules for Commonwealth citizens. The government disputes that this removes protection.

“In 2014 when Theresa May was home secretary she changed the law to remove the protection from Commonwealth citizens, and I voted against that.”

Diane Abbott MP, 26 April 2018

Diane Abbott’s office was not immediately able to say which vote she was referring to but she voted seven times on the Immigration Bill in 2014. Six of those votes were on other specific issues. One was voting against the whole Bill.

During that debate Diane Abbott asked Theresa May, then Home Secretary and the Minister in charge of the Bill, this question: “has she given no thought to the effect that her measures that are designed to crack down on illegal immigrants could have on people who are British nationals, but appear as if they might be immigrants?”

Theresa May’s reply started: “We have given a great deal of thought to the way in which our measures will operate.” She did not mention British nationals specifically and concentrates on the complexity of the system the Bill was designed to change.

The Commonwealth, the Caribbean, or the Windrush generation were not mentioned specifically in this debate.

The British Nationality Act 1948 made citizens of Commonwealth countries citizens of the UK and Colonies. The Immigration Act 1971 changed the law to grant only temporary residence to most new arrivals, but still allowed people who'd arrived before 1973 to remain in the UK indefinitely.

The practical effect of the change in the Immigration Act 2014 is disputed. The government says it didn’t remove protection. In a recent debate the current Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that the exemption from deportation for commonwealth citizens was taken out “because it was not necessary; those people had the rights under the 1971 legislation.” The problem, she argued, was “the information to confirm” that people had those rights.

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