An Explanation of Domicile and its Importance to being British.
Updated: Apr 10, 2022
In the press this week and today we have heard much about Akshata Murty’s non-domicile status much of it, in my humble opinion, utter rubbish. Putting aside the issue as a tax status it is highly important that we understand what a domicile is and its impact on nationality, for in my opinion, it is at the core of being British.
To understand this we need to look at the meaning of three key words that are highly important in their definition in international law: “domicile”, “residency” and “nationality”.
Domicile – we all begin life with a domicile of origin, which is the domicile of our parents. It is possibly where they live, but is where they feel their home is. The domicile of either or both of our parents remains our domicile until there is clear evidence that a person changes their domicile by choice. It is a case of “home is where the heart is”. Domicile is a totally separate concept to residency and nationality. Norman Tebbit’s cricket test asking immigrants whether they cheer the country they live in or their country of origin, whilst much criticised (ignorantly in my opinion) as racist or xenophobic does more or less describe this situation. Your domicile is where you feel most at home.
It needs to be noted that everyone has a domicile, but in law no-one can have two. Domicile is important in that it signifies a clear connection with a single system of territorial law. We saw an example of this recently when a French footballer, living and playing in England, faced the potential of being prosecuted in France for cruelty to a cat that he kicked in England. Of particular note is that English law determines who is domicile in the courts of England, this means that a Scotsman may reside in England for many years, have a British Nationality but still be domiciled in Scotland, if he subsequently celebrates England defeating Scotland at football it indicates he has almost certainly changed his domicile to English. One key area of law is that to accept a domicile is to accept the key values or culture of that country. In this case “culture” should be defined as “the customs, ideas , values etc of a particular civilization. Society or social group, especially at a particular time.”
Whether this legal view of domicile is archaic in an interconnected world where some corporations are larger than countries can be debated. But consider this, where are we without any physical sense of place or belonging? Corporations often seek to replicate a cosmopolitan version of belonging and culture, but they are very, very fickle and seldom value the rights of the individual as is the capacity of a nation’s laws. I would argue that English culture has a lot going for it in that it dominates much of the world by accident of history and language and has attracted many seeking its benefits from the Elsden’s arriving in Soham from Europe in the 16th century to those crossing the Channel in rubber dinghies today. English culture is multiracial and captures the good and bad from many centuries of immigration, this is illustrated by most English words for different foods having a non- English derivation. But, whilst many cultures can co-exist, in any country only one culture can be dominant. The culture of a country is its glue, but it is not fixed as it is constantly evolving.
Residency – is simply where you live and is not necessarily anything to do with domicile or nationality. A right of residency is a right to live in a country or place and should not be confused with domicile or nationality. This confusion in peoples minds did not help Brexit, especially when a group of people view themselves as European and not British. It is however a concept that Britains are quite comfortable with when you hear a Scottish accent in the former English steel town of Corby. Residential status should have been made much simpler, and an amnesty to grant residential status to everyone to tidy up the situation would be in order. Indeed Boris Johnson suggested such a policy when he was Mayor of London.
Nationality – nationality is the country you legally belong to. As such you should enjoy the benefits of that country whilst at the same time fulfilling your responsibilities to that country. Many countries allow dual citizenship, often those that have subjugated other countries as part of their past empires or those that have been subjugated by other countries. Britain, in its typically British bureaucratic manner, makes a buggers muddle of this by having up to six classes of nationality meaning some overseas nationals do not enjoy full rights of a British citizen, this has resulted in much historic and current unfairness and in my opinion warrants a “once and for all” amnesty period to tidy this up in interest of fairness.
So returning to Rishi Sunak’s wife today we see her conceding to pay UK taxes on foreign income, but then being criticized for not relinquishing her Indian citizenship and domicile. This later criticism is in my opinion at best unjust and unfair and at worst racist and xenophobic. Who are others to declare where her heart should lie? Or do they believe we should turn the clock back to 1974 when a woman in Britain had to have the same domicile as her husband?