Staff PicksWilful Ignorance: The New Political Power Play?

Wilful Ignorance: The New Political Power Play?


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The Home Secretary Sajid Javid was forced to reassess his decision to revoke Shamima Begum’s citizenship this week, in an exchange that posed some potentially sinister questions.

After the furore of the past fortnight surrounding Shamima Begum, the discussion appeared to have finally been settled with the Home Office’s controversial decision to revoke the 19-year-old’s citizenship. However, speaking to the Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Sajid Javid shed new light on the debate by conceding that this may be more difficult to action than first thought. The issue being that under the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, no citizen can be legally left stateless.

” (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 15

Upon removing Shamima Begum’s citizenship, Javid was adamant that he would not be breaking UN law, as she had inherited Bangladeshi citizenship due to her parentage. As we know, the Bangladeshi government quickly refuted this claim, due to the fact that she has never lived in Bangladesh. She is able to apply for citizenship yes, but she cannot be a citizen simply because her mother is Bangladeshi-born. Naturally, the Bangladesh Foreign Office were never going accept a plea from someone with little connection to the country and a proven affiliation with ISIS. Were they?

Simple misunderstanding, or slight deception?

This poses an interesting question about Javid’s role in all this and how much he knew in regards to the law. During his questioning in front of the Home Affairs Committee, he made sure to use choice words when pressed on the issue.

“I certainly haven’t done that and I am not aware that one of my predecessors has done that in a case where they know an individual only has one citizenship, as that would be breaking international law as we understand it.”

Javid’s words from Wednesday.
Source: The Guardian

By addressing the issue of international law and including the caveat of ‘knowing’ an individual does not have dual citizenship, Javid has expunged himself of any responsibility. Perhaps it was a case of genuine ignorance and Javid simply didn’t know Shamima Begum did not have Bangladeshi citizenship. Surely though, as the Home Secretary, he must have been aware of her circumstances and known full well that the decision to deny her re-entry to the UK was not wholly his to make. Even before this week, he has faced fierce criticism over the situation, as some have seen it as a cynical bid for Tory leadership; even those in his own party.

Social media the catalyst

In truth, whatever happens next with Shamima Begum, Javid and the Home Office have already won. Such was the media circus surrounding the story, that their decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship when they did was inspired. It clearly presented the Home Secretary as a strong leader; who is not afraid to make difficult decisions; and most importantly for the general public, a Home Office that is tough on terrorism. This subsequent back-pedalling at the Home Affairs Committee simply has not received anything like the same coverage or shares on social media. If the decision is reversed, the circus will start up again, but Javid can then point to a ruling that was simply out of his hands and down to obeying international law.

With social media, it is becoming easier for this level of wilful ignorance to be used as an important political tool. Daniel Kawczynski’s now infamous Twitter claim that Britain received no compensation from the Marshall Plan after the Second World War, as a way of criticising the EU’s stance on Brexit is perhaps the worst example of this. Kawczynski was heavily condemned online and in the press for spreading false information, but only apologised a whole two weeks later. The claim remains up on his Twitter feed, having now been retweeted 3316 times and liked 8528 times.

The issue is wide reaching, but its utility to drum up support among the converted should not be underestimated. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party leadership have seemingly been ignorant to antisemitism for the past 18 months, yet Corbyn held Chris Williamson as a close ally; a man with a chequered history to say the least. The cheers that met Williamson’s controversial speech this week however, show that there is great support at a Labour activism level for this line of the party.

A broken political climate, ease of use on social media and the rise of echo chambers have all contributed to this ‘post truth’ environment. There’s a growing view that as long as what you preach is seen by enough of the right people, nothing else really matters. It is frustrating, staggering and deeply troubling, but it is not going to go away anytime soon.

Fergus Macphee
Fergus Macphee
Fergus Macphee is originally from Dorset, but after graduating with a degree in Drama from the University of Manchester in 2017, he has remained in the city ever since. He has previously written for The Mancunion, Match Write Up and his own football-based blog. A lifelong Yeovil Town fan, his passion for sport is only matched by his interest in politics and this is prevalent in all that he writes.

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