Shamima Begum has the right to contest the government’s decision to deprive her of British citizenship. But she cannot exercise that right until the home secretary says she can, even if that is never. That seems to be the nub of the supreme court decision granting victory to the Home Office over its decision to ban the “jihadi bride” from entering Britain on “security” grounds.

Beyond the legal issues lie deeper political and moral questions. To refuse entry to Begum is not simply to keep her out of Britain. It is also to force another state or organisation to take responsibility for her.

Begum’s parents came from Bangladesh. That, in the eyes of the Home Office, makes her a Bangladeshi citizen (even though Bangladesh denies this and insists it would refuse her entry). Why should moral responsibility for someone born and raised in Britain be passed to another country just because her parents came from there?

Begum is in al-Hawl camp, run by the largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who helped destroy Islamic State (Isis). Why should Britain expect the SDF to take responsibility for a British citizen who helped its monstrous enemy?

And then there is the question of two-tier citizenship. For any Briton whose parents were born in this country and who does not possess dual citizenship, their citizenship is unconditional. For those whose parents were born abroad, or has recourse to another citizenship (even of a country they have never set foot in), their citizenship is conditional. That cannot be morally right.

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Begum has, of course, to face up to her own moral responsibilities in joining Isis. She can do so in a trial. But, however monstrous her actions may have been, she remains someone to whom Britain has legal and moral obligations.

The debate over Shamima Begum is not simply about Begum herself. It is about the nature of citizenship and the meaning of moral responsibility. It is also about how far we are willing to sacrifice moral obligations on the altar of political expediency.

• Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist



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