Victory for Home Office in Northern Ireland citizenship appeal

The Home Office has won its appeal against an immigration tribunal ruling which found that people born in Northern Ireland are not automatically British.

The woman at the centre of the case, Emma DeSouza, from Magherafelt, Co Londonderry, applied for a residence card for her US-born husband Jake. She made the application identifying herself as an Irish citizen.

The Home Office rejected the application on the grounds that it considered Ms DeSouza 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 Co Derry woman argued that she never considered herself British, so how could she renounce citizenship she never had.

Ms DeSouza took a legal challenge 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 at an Upper Tribunal hearing earlier this year.

Ms DeSouza revealed the outcome of the appeal at a press conference in Belfast.

“We have not received a decision in our favour, the decision has gone in the favour of the Secretary of State,” she said.

“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 had insisted the Home Office position ran contrary to the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, which gave anyone from Northern Ireland the right to identify as British, Irish or both.

Government lawyers argued that the British Nationality Act 1981 was the relevant legislation – not the Good Friday accord.

They highlighted that the provisions on citizenship outlined in the agreement, which was struck between the Stormont parties and the UK and Irish Governments, had not been incorporated into the corresponding piece of domestic legislation linked to the peace treaty, the 1998 Northern Ireland Act.

The Government said the British Nationalist Act ruled that anyone born in Northern Ireland was automatically British, until such time as they renounce that citizenship.

Ms DeSouza accused the UK Government of failing to implement the provisions of Good Friday Agreement into UK domestic law.

She said her case will have implications for EU citizens post-Brexit.

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