Page last updated at 16:36 GMT, Sunday, 13 July 2008 17:36 UK

Pensioner wins citizen law change

Thea Johnson
Mrs Johnson did not have the right to pass on her British citizenship in 1949

The government is to change a loophole in the law after a 20-year campaign by a woman who was not allowed to pass on her Britishness to her daughter.

Thea Johnson's only child Frances was born in Cape Town to a South African father in 1949 and at that time, only men could transfer British citizenship.

The law was changed in 1983 but it did not apply to Mrs Johnson's daughter.

Mrs Johnson, 85, described the move to overturn what she called "sexual discrimination" as "wonderful".

Mrs Johnson was born in Stepney, east London, in 1922, and served as a nurse with the Royal Navy during World War II.

She ended up in Cape Town, where she married a South African and had their daughter Frances.

Paternal right

"I couldn't give her British nationality - it wasn't allowed. It was only paternal," said Mrs Johnson.

I felt that I was being penalised for being a woman
Thea Johnson

"Over the years, I have written dozens of letters in protest to various politicians and authorities but all in vain.

"It was so frustrating. I felt that I was being penalised for being a woman.

"It is sexual discrimination. If I was a man, Frances could be British tomorrow. She would have a passport in no time."

Although Frances could come and live in Britain and eventually seek citizenship, this was never enough for her mother.

"I don't want my daughter to have a backdoor entry into Britain," she said. "I deserve better than that and so does she."

The 1981 British Nationality Act, which came into force two years later, changed the situation regarding who could pass on citizenship.

There are many thousands of people in the same position as Thea for all sorts of accidents of history
Andrew Holroyd,
Law Society President

It allowed mothers as well as fathers to pass on their citizenship and it also provided for the automatic UK registration of children born of British mothers abroad from 1961-1982, creating the opportunity for citizenship.

But Mrs Johnson's daughter did not qualify.

After more than 20 years of campaigning, Mrs Johnson contacted the BBC's Politics Show for help after watching its new interactive strand, which deals directly with viewers' concerns and complaints.

They sought legal advice for Mrs Johnson and put her in touch with politicians who might be able to help.

'Straightforward discrimination'

Andrew Holroyd, president of the Law Society and also a top immigration lawyer, told Mrs Johnson that a change in the law was the only answer to her problem.

"There are many thousands of people in the same position as Thea for all sorts of accidents of history," he said.

The government accepts that those born to British mothers [abroad] before 1961 are at a disadvantage
Liam Byrne,
Immigration minister

The Liberal Democrats have been pressing for a change in the law.

Chris Huhne, the Lib Dems home affairs spokesman, said: "This is one of those cases where the law is clearly an ass. There is a straightforward issue of discrimination."

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said: "The government accepts that those born to British mothers [abroad] before 1961 are at a disadvantage, so it is confirmed that we shall seek to bring forward a legislative remedy at an early stage."

Max Cotton, from the BBC's Politics Show, said it would be a new clause in the Citizenship and Immigration Bill due to be published on Monday.

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