By Matthew Barrett
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"The assurances and information that the Government has secured from Jordan mean that we can undertake deportation in full compliance with the law and with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. Deportation might still take time – the proper processes must be followed and the rule of law must take precedence – but today Qatada has been arrested and deportation is underway."
The Qatada problem has been a legal headache for May. When the ECHR ruled against Qatada's deportation in January, it did so on the unprecedented grounds that "evidence obtained from the torture of others might be used against him in future legal proceedings in Jordan". Since that time, May has had, crudely put, the right-wing press – in particular the Sun, which has campaigned almost daily on the matter – urging her to find a way around the ruling. Number 10 has also been keen for Qatada to be kicked back to Jordan, with the Prime Minister discussing Qatada’s deportation with the country's head of state, King Abdullah.
As well as being vigorously urged to take action by the press, May has faced calls from her backbenches to simply ignore the ECHR ruling and deport Qatada directly to Jordan. However, May has not done this: she has taken the route of comprehensively satisfying the conditions the ECHR ruling made clear. May described this process to the House:
"I have been to Jordan and held meetings with the King, the Prime Minister and several other ministers. My Honourable Friend the Minister for Crime and Security [James Brokenshire] has travelled to Jordan. And there have been several official delegations to follow up on ministerial negotiations. And these discussions are ongoing. The result is that we now have the material we need to satisfy the courts and to resume deportation."
May further explained why directly deporting Qatada would have been impractical – and illegal:
"First, why we cannot just ignore Strasbourg and put Qatada on a plane. In reality we simply could not do this. As ministers, we would not just be breaking the law ourselves but we would be asking government lawyers, officials, the police, law enforcement officers and airline companies to break the law too. As soon as we issued a deportation notice to Qatada, his lawyers would win an immediate injunction preventing us from removing him. And even then, if somehow we succeeded in deporting him against the wishes of the courts, we could be ordered to bring him back to Britain and perhaps even pay out compensation."
"It remains our concern that the Home Office should have acted faster after the European Court’s judgement in January, and had we not had that early drift and delay after that judgement, Abu Qatada might not have been released in the first place. … As Abu Qatada has already been released on bail, there is a significant risk that the court, either today or at a future date, will decide instead to continue with bail. It remains therefore a serious concern that Home Office delays in January and February led to Abu Qatada being released in the first place and are also making it harder to return him to prison now."
That there were no notable rebellions from backbenchers against May's statement is testament to the hard work she has put in, not just by successfully negotiating with the Jordanian government in this case, but also the work done in the case of Abu Hamza and four other terror suspects deported earlier this month.
The Home Secretary should be commended for finally concluding the deportation of Qatada years after David Blunkett started proceedings. Let's now hope the courts do not find in Qatada's favour during the appeal process, and successfully allow him to be removed.
May's closing words were:
"Mr Speaker, British courts have found that Abu Qatada is a dangerous man, he is a risk to our national security, and he should be deported to Jordan. We have now obtained from the Jordanian Government the material we need to comply with the ruling of the European Court. I believe the assurances and the information we have gathered will mean that we can soon put Qatada on a plane and get him out of our country for good."