UK wins De Souza case yet is already losing the politics around it

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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The Home Office could not have won its challenge to the original ruling in the Emma De Souza citizenship case more clearly than it did yesterday.

Ms De Souza, from Magherafelt, accused the government of failing to honour the spirit of a commitment in the Good Friday Agreement that people from the province could identify as British, Irish or both.

Ms De Souza insists she is Irish and has never been British, and claimed the Home Office was trying to restrict access to EU entitlements in Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

It is extraordinary that Ms De Souza won her original case, but somehow she did. The Upper Tribunal put that right yesterday, and decisively. The judges 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.

“By the same token, it is equally inconceivable that the far-reaching consequences for British nationality law would not have been addressed by the 1998 Act.”

Yet while the Home Office has won, already the UK is losing a political campaign that is emerging from this case. It might yet lead to a climbdown by a weak British government.

Predictably, Simon Coveney joined the chorus, that includes Alliance and Sinn Fein, yesterday. The Irish deputy prime minister’s office expressed his concerns about the “citizenship and identity provisions” of the Belfast Agreement, and said he would be raising this with the Secretary of State Julian Smith this week.

In an alarming development, Mike Nesbitt MLA appeared to be supporting Ms De Souza yesterday. He then said that he was seeking “a political debate on the implications” of Ms De Souza’s case. Even so, by appearing alongside her and staunch political supporters of her he had seemed to be supporting yet another assault on an aspect of British sovereignty.