Abu Qatada: Theresa May not defeated yet

John Rentoul

may2 300x199 Abu Qatada: Theresa May not defeated yetThe problem with holding a “council of war”, as David Cameron did yesterday with Theresa May, Chris Grayling and Dominic Grieve, is that the Abu Qatada case has not been solved for 11 years and won’t be for a while yet. The Prime Minister looks as if he is “gripping it” – by having a meeting – but risks raising expectations that it will be “sorted”, to use Alastair Campbell’s vocabulary.

There is speculation that the Home Secretary, when she makes a statement to the House of Commons this afternoon, will say that she has received further assurances from Jordan that evidence obtained by torture would not be used to try Abu Qatada if he were deported. I don’t see how she could have obtained those in the few hours since she was refused leave of appeal to the Supreme Court.

In which case, all she can say is what she intends to do next. She may try to make a direct appeal to the Supreme Court, or say that she intends to obtain further assurances from Jordan, or that Abu Qatada will be tried in this country.*

The Government’s embarrassment is minor so far. Theresa May is fighting on the side of public opinion, but the longer Abu Qatada stays here the less competent she seems.

Meanwhile there is the underlying question of the European Convention on Human Rights. My view is that the finer qualities of the Jordanian legal system should have no bearing on our deportation decisions. But the UK signed up to all sorts of high-minded stuff about torture being absolutely, totally and utterly unacceptable, and so we should not be surprised when the courts interpret them to mean what they say they mean.

And my view is that the discomfort of accommodating Abu Qatada – or of amending the law on prisoners’ votes – is not sufficient to justify repudiating the Convention. But May and Grayling have raised expectations, which cannot be satisfied unless the Conservatives win a majority in the Commons, and face the prospect of sounding like pub bores ranting impotently about (the way British courts interpret) the Convention for the next two years.

*Update: So it proved: well, two out of three isn’t bad. She did indeed have something up her sleeve, in that she has been negotiating a treaty with Jordan as a back-up strategy all along. Carl Gardner thinks this is a game-changer, and I have applied for the phrase’s suspension from the Banned List to allow him to make his excellent points. My fuller thoughts will be in The Independent tomorrow.

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  • Hill244

    Didn’t The Parsons Boy back Iraq as a bulwark against Iranian theocracy? Didn’t MI6 take part in torturing Islamic suspects? What really happened to Dr Kelly?

  • greggf

    “But the UK signed up to all sorts of high-minded stuff……”

    Isn’t this the case in many other aspects of social policy?
    Trying to be “too nice” (because once we were “nasty” – the biter bit in May’s plight) invites abuse, exploitation and even corruption at the fringes, which grow with each failure of control.

  • mightymark

    Why do we not try to get some off these “high minded” treaties etc amended to reflect the sorry world we live in? The UK can surely not be alone in experiencing the kinds of difficulties we do in these matters. If so might there not be sufficient signatory countries willing to make amendments – and has anyone bothered finding out?

    While we are about it how about amending the law on prisoners of war that allows the detention of, possibly unwilling, conscripts for as long as a war lasts but gives a virtually free pass to highly motivated, vicious terrorists, presumably because they are not in uniform. Well, it would go some way to solving the Guantanamo problem!

  • frere

    difficult to know who is the greater threat to our liberties [those that remain after thatcher and blair] abu boo boo or treezamay. if cameron really cared about our freedoms he would kick both of them across the channel tomorrow..

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