Theresa May under fire over deportation cat claim


Home Secretary Theresa May on restoring "sanity to our immigration system"

Home Secretary Theresa May has been criticised for claiming that an illegal immigrant avoided deportation because of his pet cat.

She told the Conservative conference the ruling illustrated the problem with human rights laws, but England's top judges said she had got it wrong.

Her Cabinet colleague Ken Clarke said he had been "surprised" by the claim and could not believe it was true.

And human rights campaigners said Mrs May should get "her facts straight".

'Needs to go'

Mrs May made the remark during a speech in which she repeated her belief that the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, "needs to go".

She also outlined how she planned to rewrite immigration rules to prevent "misinterpretation" of Article 8 of the convention - the right to family life.

She said the meaning of Article 8 had been "perverted" and used to prevent the removal of foreign national prisoners and illegal immigrants - more than 100 of whom successfully used it last year to avoid deportation.

Start Quote

The cat surprised me ”

End Quote Ken Clarke Justice Secretary

She pledged to clear up any "misconception" by judges about what it meant.

"We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act... about the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because, and I am not making this up, he had a pet cat."

But a spokesman for the Judicial Office at the Royal Courts of Justice, which issues statements on behalf of senior judges, said the pet had "had nothing to do with" the judgement allowing the man to stay.

Mrs May told the BBC her speech had been checked before it went out and that the case was "just one example" of where she believed the law was being misconstrued.

Human Rights Act

But she promised she would have "another look at the case", if it was proved to be wrong.

Asked about the reference, her Conservative cabinet colleague, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, told the BBC: "The cat surprised me. I cannot believe anyone was refused deportation just because they owned a cat."


  • Bolivian man fought deportation
  • Said he was in a "genuine" relationship with UK woman
  • They detailed their life, including their cat
  • Home Office lost because it did not follow its own rules
  • The cat was not a relevant factor

Later he told a fringe meeting that the case "certainly has nothing to do with the Human Rights Act and nothing to do with the European Convention on Human Rights".

And he said repealing the UK Human Rights Act would mean "all the cases go back to Strasbourg", adding: "I think it is a good idea that we remain adhering to the Convention on Human Rights and the cases are heard here by British judges."

Mr Clarke said he had not discussed with Mrs May her plan to change immigration rules to reduce the number of foreign criminals successfully using Article 8 to avoid deportation.

But he said it was "fine" to "remind people" about the scope of Article 8 as he believed there had to be an "extremely compelling" reason for convicted foreign criminals to remain in the UK.


For Labour, shadow policing minister Vernon Coaker said the government was not enforcing the rules that already existed.

"We have the ludicrous spectacle of the home secretary blaming cats whilst letting into the country a sheikh the home secretary thought she had banned and ending up paying him compensation as a result."

And Amnesty International said Mrs May's comments only fuelled "myths and misconceptions" about the Human Rights Act.

"That someone in Theresa May's position can be so misinformed as to parade out a story about someone being allowed to stay in Britain because of a cat is nothing short of alarming," the campaign group said.

"She urgently needs to get her facts straight."

The BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said what had been intended as a major policy announcement had turned into a public relations shambles with Mrs May "overreaching herself" and Mr Clarke appearing out of the loop.

The case at the centre of the row occurred in 2008 and involved a Bolivian student who said he could show he had a proper permanent relationship with his partner and should not be deported.

The Bolivian man eventually won his case on appeal because the Home Office had ignored its own immigration rules on unmarried couples.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 217.


    Seems I'm being censored of this HYS. Why? I'm abiding by the house rules! Is it the case that you've taken issue with my 'right-wing' opinions!

    I shall goose-step to work in a huff!

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    The HRA needs to go asap, it is a complete farce.

    When have the 'rights' of law abiding UK citizens ever been protected?

    It only protects crimminals and immigrants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.


    I have to dissagree with you. Immigrants and aslym seekers are often some of the vulnerable people in our society and the HRA/ECHR is there to protect their basic rights which may be at risk if they are deported.

    The provisions of the HRA must take priority over all other factors when deciding the future of vulnerable people. I strongly oppose any changes to the HRA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    @207. Vincent
    How many people born in the UK would go abroad, commit a crime and then expect preferential traetment?

    The Spanish 'Costas' are full of them in Summer. Most of them under 25.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    42 Minutes ago

    Au contraire, deportation to some Countries is a death sentence.
    Well, if you know that when you enter and that isn't enough to motivate one to follow the rules then there seems to be no hope

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    I am an immigrant and some of the rules on family right (human rights) are just totally wrong. If you go to another person's country and commit a grievous offence, I believe such person should loose every form of right. A murderer, who has deprived a family of their loved ones, claiming right to family...what a joke

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    5 Minutes ago

    D'Oh! I'll try to think of another example

    Sorry, mate, I wasn't trying to steal your thunder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    I am surprised (but pleased) that the authoritarian Tories have compromised here - remember, they wanted to completely do away with the HRA, which would have meant ordinary law abiding citizens would have no legal protection against abuses of power by government. I am thankful that the Tories DO NOT have a parliamentary majority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    Sorry perhaps you should look to guantanamo and the fact many countries took some from there, or the fact that the UK already has such rules inplace which cover deportation of a person to a safe 3rd country if there are grounds for fearing for a deported persons safety on arrival back at the COO

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    About time we got back control of who we allow in this Country. The HRA is a farce all it does is to protect criminals, who make law abiding people have to live in fear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    How many people born in the UK would go abroad, commit a crime and then expect preferential traetment?
    If a foreign national wants to be here, because they clearly prefer it to their own country, then they can obey the laws like the rest of us, or suffer the consequences.
    Perhaps this will send out a message that we will no longer be seen as the soft touch of Europe

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    192. TerryCheesecake
    This affected approx. 100 people last year.
    I 100% agree.
    In addition, what's even worse is that it feeds the constant negativity and paranoia that's making us a country of nervous wrecks. Politicians playing on peoples fears and prejudice - pretty desperate tactics really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    Yeehaa. Hip hip hip hooray, an MP actually speaking up for what the VAST majority of Britons are saying.

    Bring it on Theresa.

    BTW, something else the VAST majority of Britons, esp the English, are saying, can we have a referendum on our continued membership of the EU please. Pretty please with silver knobs on........

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    This is European Law ..and you know full weel that your government is powerless to change it.
    Either use your time to get us out of the EU or go away and tinker with some bye-laws.

    The ECHR comes from the council of Europe (& its court) we were members of the council of Europe long before we joined the EU (1949) and would still be members & bound by the ECHR if we left the EU

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    I'm no Tory voter, but this is the kind of measure that Labour had 13 years to introduce. Finally a bit of sanity is beginning to creep into our immigration policy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    The whole idea of unrestricted travel to the uk from states who foster anti democratic views and harbour known threats to the UK should be curtailed. Large numbers arrive on our shores from these nations with no interest in our culture or way of life and seek to change not adapt. #189Rik's right some visa treaties we currently have are tant amount to having an open border with Germany during WW2.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    You know, it is simple, just allow the UK to have a referendum on the EU and then as you will see the result will be to leave and we can then be like Norway, a member of the EEA, which is similar to what my parents voted for in the 60's. Then we can right our own, common sense bill of human rights which do not include privileges, but basic human rights to not be tortured and freedom of speech.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Always look on the bright side of life, duh da, duh da duh da duh DOH!.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    Further to my recent comments about emotive soundbites, could I suggest the following. "Why are we getting involved?" "They're as bad as each other" "I blame the bankers" "We're too soft" That covers many issues. If you think of any more please don't be afraid to suggest them. No thanks neccessary. Glad to help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.


    D'Oh! I'll try to think of another example!


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