The home secretary, Suella Braverman, has personally intervened to bar a man living in exile in Turkey from being reunited in the UK with his British son.
He wrote to the Home Office asking to be allowed to come back but instead Braverman has ordered his exclusion “on the basis of serious criminality” because of a cannabis offence from five years ago. Twala’s lawyer said Braverman’s intervention set a “worrying precedent”.
Twala was on his way back from a family holiday to South Africa with his nine-year-old son, Mason, and his parents and siblings when he was prevented from boarding a flight home at Istanbul airport on 30 December.
The trip was the first time that Twala, 34, had returned since his family relocated from Durban to Chester when he was 15.
Twala had residency in the UK having grown up in Britain but had not yet applied for citizenship. His immigration status now hangs in the balance because of a 2018 conviction for possession of cannabis with intent to supply.
He has not offended before or since and served four months of a nine-month sentence – lower than the 12-month threshold that triggers automatic deportation.
A letter from the Home Office to Twala’s lawyer sent on 14 July, says: “The secretary of state has personally directed that you should be excluded from the United Kingdom (UK) on the grounds that your exclusion is conducive to the public good.”
The letter concedes that Twala is considered at a low risk of reoffending but maintains that exclusion is appropriate “on the basis of serious criminality” because a court deemed that he dealt cannabis. The intervention carries no right of appeal or administrative review.
The Labour MP Diane Abbott, who has campaigned on behalf of Windrush victims, said it was “shocking that the home secretary is using an exclusion order in this type of case”.
She added: “This dad, resident in Britain, is not a threat to the general public and Suella must know this. Instead she is implementing powers meant to be used against serious criminals to permanently exclude this man from Britain with no due process and no right of appeal.
“It is completely wrong that he is permanently separated from his son. Nothing that he has done justifies this. We can only hope that Suella Braverman thinks again”
Nicholas Hughes, Twala’s lawyer at Duncan Lewis solicitors, said Braverman’s intervention set a “worrying precedent” for blocking people from the country.
“The concern is about the precedent that this might set if it goes unchallenged for such a low bar to what is considered a serious criminal,” Hughes said.
“He doesn’t pose a threat to society. It’s completely perverse to then say this is a proportionate response to a one-time drug offender. That’s lunacy.”
Twala is likely to seek a judicial review of the decision.
Hughes said: “This has to be challenged, not only to protect Siyabonga and bring him back with his family, but also to stop the home secretary abusing her discretion to apply to anyone she personally decides she doesn’t want in the UK, irrespective of whether or not it’s a proportionate or lawful thing to do.”
Twala’s son Mason had to celebrate his ninth birthday last week without his father. “I speak to him as much as I can, but I can’t parent on the phone,” Twala said.
The separation from his son and uncertainty over his future has taken its toll on Twala. “It’s been hell,” he said. “I’ve tried absolutely everything I can to stay sane but it’s been really difficult. I think it’s harder than prison.”
Twala had a job in Britain as a heavy goods vehicle driver and a rented home with space for Mason but both have slipped through his fingers while he has been in exile.
He has been relying on family help and charity from strangers to stay in Ankara and is doing his best to make his money stretch. “I’m eating one meal a day right now and some days I’m really hungry,” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not comment on individual cases.”