British citizenships under jeopardy

Country/area: United Kingdom

Organisation: The New Statesman

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 1/12/2021

Credit: Ben van der Merwe, Freddie Hayward

Biography: Ben van der Merwe is a data journalist at Investment Monitor & New Statesman Media Group.

Freddie Hayward is a junior reporter at the New Statesman.

Project description:

This project examined the consequences of clause nine of the British government’s proposed Nationality and Borders Bill, which would allow the Home Secretary to strip British nationals of their citizenship without notification under broad conditions. We estimated the number of people who would be affected by clause nine and the relative impact on different ethnicities. This exclusive data analysis was followed up by an in-depth explainer piece, and two further data analyses shedding light on the number of deprivation appeals and the strength of the UK’s deprivation powers compared to other G20 countries.

Impact reached:

The estimate of the number of people affected by clause nine went viral on social media, receiving hundreds of thousands of page views. A follow-up YouTube video on the analysis has received over 100,000 views. The analysis has been cited four times in Parliament and extensively by protesters, as well as by Al Jazeera, the Independent, openDemocracy, Al Araby and the Herald. The overall figure of six million people potentially eligible for deprivation of citizenship was widely cited, as were the figures demonstrating the racially unequal impact — we estimated the clause would affect two in five people from a non-white ethnic minority and half of all British Asians, compared to one in twenty white people.

Techniques/technologies used:

The estimate for the number of people potentially eligible for deprivation of citizenship was based largely on data from the 2011 census. It also required building a database of citizenship laws for 33 countries and how the law has changed in each country since 1945. This was necessary to determine the number of individuals potentially eligible for citizenship in each of the countries, based on their place and year of birth. The analysis was performed in R, which allowed for the rapid and retraceable merging of datasets.

A follow-up explainer piece was based on legal briefings by the House of Commons library and UNHCR. A follow-up piece revealing that appeals against deprivation had reached record highs in recent years was possible thanks to an FOI request submitted months earlier and made use of Datawrapper for visualisation purposes. Another follow-up article revealed that the British government’s powers of deprivation are the most wide-reaching of any G20 country, based on an analysis of a database of all countries’ citizenship laws.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of the project was analysing the legislation in depth, building a custom database of the nationality laws of 33 countries since 1945, collating the relevant statistics from the 2011 census and combining it all. It was also challenging to communicate the methodology clearly and to ensure that our readers understood the meaning of the legislation.

The latter challenge was further addressed by a follow-up article explaining, in detail, the implications of the bill for our readers (https://www.newstatesman.com/the-explainer/2021/12/what-does-the-nationality-and-borders-bill-mean-for-you) and through interactions on social media with our readers in which one of the authors answered questions and corrected misunderstandings. We also had to deal with rebuttals from the Home Office that contained false information, potentially confusing our readers. One of the authors engaged extensively with the Home Office on this matter, eventually convincing them to retract one of their false claims (the claim that the Home Secretary’s powers cannot leave anyone stateless).

What can others learn from this project?

This project illustrates the potential for data stories to have a significant impact on the public conversation. The reasons it did so were its favourable timing, coming just before a debate on the Bill in the House of Commons, and its simple and easily quotable headline findings. Being clear about the methodology and data sources was also important, as evidenced by the fact that many citations of our analysis referenced that it was an analysis of ONS data. The project also benefitted from multiple follow-up stories, which took advantage of a wave of interest in the issue to promote both further engagement and a more in-depth understanding among our readers. This included a video piece uploaded to YouTube, which likely reached audiences not disposed to reading lengthy articles or who had not subscribed to The New Statesman.

Project links: