By George Fergusson, Former diplomat

SHAMIMA Begum’s appeal to return to Britain, to face possible prosecution and reconnect with her family, would throw up challenges for any society. Britain has to face them at a time when debating almost anything is challenging. The first signs of how we are managing this issue are discouraging. And there is a new and sobering Irish parallel.

The legality of the Home Secretary’s decision is debatable. It will certainly be debated in court. For a country which has brought up a child – apparently not very well – then to reject its responsibility for her when she turns out to be difficult is unattractive. It is even less defensible when we try to pass her off to another country, less well-resourced to deal with her and which has far less connection with her.

But it has other serious implications for our society.

With no single written constitution, we have long relied on conventions and traditions to safeguard citizens’ rights. Since the 1950s, we have bolstered this with the European Convention on Human Rights – the ECHR – and then with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. Even David Davis, a genuine libertarian, found the Charter and the EU Court of Justice to be necessary back-ups when he thought British institutions failed to protect citizens’ freedoms: he withdrew from his case only when he entered Cabinet. We are now scheduled to leave the jurisdiction of the EU’s Court of Justice; and the Prime Minister has made clear that she wants to see us leave the ECHR in due course too. Mr Javid’s assertion of his personal power to remove British nationals’ citizenship is a worrying glimpse of the risks we face if we lose our external legal safeguards and still have no binding constitutional protections. Our vulnerability to political mood swings was underlined last month when a supporter of the Home Secretary’s decision told the BBC that it was justified as it was in line with what people want.

Even more worrying is the decision’s effect on social cohesion. For generations, the jibe that our non-white fellow citizens should go back where they came from has been rejected by virtually all people of all political persuasions. “My home is Bradford”, or Cumbernauld, or wherever, has been seen as a full answer by a British-born citizen. When a Home Secretary declares that the true home of a London-born 19-year-old, however culpable, who has never been to Bangladesh, is nonetheless Bangladesh, he risks making legitimate a dangerous taunt that should never be acceptable.

How are the Irish handling a similar challenge? An Irish woman, an Islamic State (IS) member who had been married to an IS member, with a child by him, was captured last week and detained in northern Syria. Last weekend, Charles Flanagan, Ireland’s Justice Minister, declared that he would make every effort to get her back to face Irish courts for her actions.

There are some factors that I hope are not relevant and would not change our handling of her case in the UK. One is that her name is Lisa Smith and she is ethnically European (and a former member of the Irish Army). Another is that she seems to have been detained by US Forces, who may be less easy to dump unwanted citizens on than the Kurdish irregulars who are holding Ms Begum. Neither of these is a respectable reason for our taking a different route.

It is hard to admit that the Irish just take more responsibility for their citizens than we now do. But they do have laws that are subject to constitutional standards, as well as the external standards that we may be about to give up. Something for us to ponder?