Asma al-Assad, the British-born wife of the Syrian president, was subjected to a travel ban and asset freeze in the European Union, after disclosures about an online shopping spree involving retailers in London and Paris.
As a British citizen, the 36-year-old former investment banker will, however, be free to travel to Britain, though William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said that was unlikely given current circumstances in her adopted country.
“British passport holders do obviously have a right of entry to the United Kingdom,” said Mr Hague. Mr Assad’s mother, sister and sister-in-law, eight ministers and two oil companies were added to an existing EU blacklist that totals 126 individuals and 41 firms or utilities.
“The behaviour of the Assad family continues to be murdering and totally unacceptable in the eyes of the world,” said Mr Hague.
However, The Daily Telegraph has learnt that the Home Office is in the early stages of examining the possibility of revoking Mrs Assad’s British citizenship, which was gained by birth. She left Britain only in 2000 to marry Mr Assad as he took over from his late father.
Sajid Javid, the MP for Bromsgrove, has asked Theresa May, the Home Secretary, to consider using her powers under the 2006 Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act, which allow the deprivation of a person’s citizenship if it is deemed “conducive to the public good” and doing so would not render that person stateless.
The provision in the law was aimed at terrorists with dual nationality but has not so far been used, according to immigration law experts.
“I am pleased that action has been taken by the EU,” said Mr Javid.
“I appreciate the difficulties that may be involved but I hope a way can be found to frustrate travel into and out of the UK.”
A Home Office official, asked what would happen if Mrs Assad tried to travel to Britain, confirmed that there was “contingency planning” for that scenario.
Mr Javid, who is parliamentary private secretary to George Osborne, the Chancellor, said he hoped that the Home Office would look at the cases of other senior business and regime figures that hold dual British and Syrian nationality.
He said that during a parliamentary visit to Syria in January 2011 he had been struck by the number of people in such a situation.
Two months later, protests against 40 years of Assad family rule broke out and were met by a brutal response that has claimed most of the estimated 8,000 lives lost. Yesterday, Syrian government forces continued to bomb towns and clashed with rebels in several parts of the country.
Under the asset freeze, officials said Mrs Assad will not be able to dispose of major assets, or to spend large sums of money that could be construed as an attempt to launder assets. She may however be able to apply for permission from the Treasury to buy “basic” items online, if any suppliers were prepared, or able, to ship to Syria.
A cache of emails leaked by opposition activists showed that Mrs Assad, who has three children, spent tens of thousands of pounds on jewels, furniture and a Venetian glass vase from Harrods. Such purchases could have broken existing sanctions that bar EU citizens from supporting the regime.
The emails from her private account make clear that she is far more than a glamorous addition to the presidential circle. She has consulted her husband on strategy and offered her loyal support without appearing to question the crackdown.