Abu Qatada bursts May's bubble

  • 12 November 2012
  • From the section UK Politics
  • comments
Abu Qatada
A British, rather than a European court, has caused Theresa May's latest problems over Abu Qatada

David Cameron once said that he got so frustrated with the case of Abu Qatada that he sometimes wanted to get on a plane and deport the terrorist suspect to Jordan himself.

Well, last April the Home Secretary Theresa May had good news for him. She told him that, finally, Qatada's deportation was "under way".

That was clearly somewhat premature. The latest ruling by the special immigration appeals commission ends a long run of good luck for Mrs May.

She had secured the deportation of another radical cleric Abu Hamza. She had prevented the deportation of the computer hacker Gary Mckinnon. Fans were talking up her prospects as a potential Tory leader.

But the Qatada decision pops that particular bubble. A man the government considers to be a security risk is not only avoiding deportation but he is going to be walking the streets of London.

'Unsatisfactory'

A 10-year campaign to send this man to face trial in Jordan - which has cost the British taxpayer a million pounds - has once again be stymied.

The home secretary has invested a huge amount of time and effort on this, working with the Jordanian government to give the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) the assurances it needs that Qatada would get a fair trial in Jordan and that any witnesses would not be tortured.

And yet a British court in London - not a European court in Strasbourg - has now provided yet another hurdle in the way of the deportation of what Mrs May called "a dangerous man".

Not for nothing did the home secretary say this judgement was "deeply unsatisfactory".

In the Commons, MPs on all sides expressed their frustration and disappointment at the decision.

But some began to say what many in the press and public will echo on Tuesday:

  • that the time has come to ignore the European Court of Human Rights and just put Qatada on a plane
  • that the government made the wrong decision to take the case through the UK courts rather than appeal through the ECHR
  • that the government was wrong to water down anti-terror control orders so that they have fewer ways of controlling Qatada's movements

Ultimately this remains a struggle between the competing interests of public security and support for human rights.

And, much to the government's frustration, the court's interpretation of human rights appears to be winning out.

Downing Street sources insist this is not the end of the road and that they remain confident they will eventually get Qatada deported.

But they - and the home secretary - are lucky that most attention appears still to be focused on the BBC.

This is not the news they wanted - or were expecting. Were it not for the BBC crisis, some at Westminster might have been dusting off the word "omnishambles" from their list of favourite clichés.

Others might even have begun musing over Mrs May's future.