When the order was made to deprive Shamima Begum of her British citizenship in February 2019, it seemed gestural and unlikely to stand. She was born in England and had no dual nationality; her marriage to a Dutch citizen was invalid since she was 15 when she entered into it; and she had a baby, who was British by descent according to the British Nationality Act of 1981.

Within three weeks, her son had died, and the gesture had solidified into something darker and more concrete: a statement of values, in which some citizens are more British than others. What should be seen as chilling safeguarding issues – underage girls trafficked by criminal gangs into war zones – became security matters, in which the national interest is so profoundly threatened that, not only is the state relieved of its duty to protect, the girls can be made stateless.

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