By Tim Montgomerie
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If you wanted to criticise Theresa May over the last few months in her handling of the Qatada case then you might fairly say that she was too submissive to the ECHR and too keen to follow the letter of the law. I think those would have been unfair criticisms – a Home Secretary cannot ignore or even bend the law. A Home Secretary must uphold the law and be seen to do so.
I read yesterday's news that Qatada has been allowed to appeal as proof (if further proof was needed) that the Strasbourg court will bend over backwards to help someone like Qatada – popularly known as Osama bin Laden’s ambassador to Europe. The Home Office is absolutely clear that his window to appeal expired at midnight on Monday. The officials at the Strasbourg court are saying that "within three months" from 17th January equalled Tuesday night. On the Today programme the leeway is apparently explained by the court receiving so much correspondence every day.
David Cameron made it clear that Qatada will be deported:
"He is a threat to our security, he has absolutely no further call on our hospitality and he should be deported. That is what we are determined to achieve, no matter how difficult it is, no matter how long it may take."
The Prime Minister must understand the importance of this issue. For many Eurosceptics the Qatada issue is an issue of sovereignty. Do we rule our own country or do 'judges'* from foreign lands run Britain? It is also becoming an issue of competence, however. I have huge respect for Theresa May and believe she's one of the Government's most effective ministers. The papers aren't giving her much benefit of the doubt this morning, however, because this episode follows numerous others in which the Coalition's "grip" and effectiveness has been questioned. The papers are also hostile to the Coalition, in general, and this is another opportunity for them to kick David Cameron.
What this latest episode will do is reinforce the increasing view that Britain will have to leave the ECHR. In his column for yesterday's Evening Standard Matthew d'Ancona wrote that making the British Supreme Court the court of final appeal "is not loopy talk confined to dining groups of angry Right-wing Tories… increasingly — and crucially — this is mainstream Conservative thinking." If the PM is looking for an issue to reunite the unhappy Conservative family he can't get too tough towards the ECHR. The Lib Dems will protest but doomed in the opinion polls, let them.
* I use the inverted commas deliberately because many of the ECHR's countries send politicians rather than legal experts to be their representatives at the court.