Abu Qatada: Theresa May not defeated yet
The 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.Tagged in: Abu Qatada, echr, ecthr, torture
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