The Ulster Unionist Party has distanced itself from Mike Nesbitt’s apparent support for the Emma De Souza citizenship case.
Mr Nesbitt, a former UUP leader, appeared alongside Ms De Souza and politicians from Alliance and Sinn Fein today, when her case against the Home Office was decisively defeated at the Upper Tribunal Immigration Chamber.
An earlier immigration tribunal had upheld the right of Ms De Souza to declare herself as Irish without first renouncing British citizenship.
Unionists have been alarmed by the case. The UUP welcomed the upper tribunal ruling as “confirming that UK nationality law is consistent with the Belfast Agreement”.
It said: “Mike Nesbitt attended an event in support of Emma De Souza in a personal capacity.”
Mr Nesbitt said: “Emma wishes to declare herself Irish and carve out a life with her husband Jake in Northern Ireland. She thought the 1998 Agreement afforded those rights. The courts say no. We need a political debate on the implications.”
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The Home Office had rejected the application on the grounds that it considered Ms De Souza a British citizen. Officials told her she should could either reapply identifying herself as British, or renounce her UK citizenship and reapply as an Irish citizen.
The judges in today’s ruling were emphatic Ms De Souza’s arguments.
They said: “It the parties to the multi-party agreement and the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom had intended the concept of self-identification necessarily to include a person’s ability to reject his or her Irish or British citizenship, it is inconceivable that the provisions would not have dealt with this expressly.”
Ms De Souza, from Magherafelt, argued that she never considered herself British, so how could she renounce citizenship she never had.
She took a legal case against the Home Office and won, with a judge at a First Tier Immigration Tribunal ruling that she was an “Irish national only who has only ever been such”.
The Home Office appealed against that decision.
Ms De Souza said today: “We have not received a decision in our favour, the decision has gone in the favour of the secretary of state.
“We have unfortunately lost. We are both deeply disappointed by this decision today.”
She insisted her legal battle would go on.
“After four years it’s safe to say we won’t be lying down anytime soon,” she said.
Ms DeSouza says the Home Office position is contrary to the Belfast Agreement, which gave anyone from NI the right to identify as British or Irish.
The News Letter has recently run articles from unionists involved in the 1998 negotiations, Dermot Nesbitt and Peter Weir, who both made clear that there was never any prospect of unionists supporting an end to automatic citizenship.
l Letters and Morning View, page 18