Ian Dunt Follow @IanDunt
In a kinder, saner country, it wouldn't be like this. This morning Downing Street came out in support of Theresa May in her spat with Ken Clarke, saying that the justice secretary would surely change his views on her 'catgate' speech now it was clear a cat was involved in the judgement.
British politics is more concerned with perceptions than facts, but this was pushing things firmly into the realm of fairy tale.
Here's May's quote: "The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat."
Here's what actually happened: To prove they had been in a long-term relationship with a British citizen for four years, a foreign national cited the cat in an immigration appeal as one piece of evidence. It was one aspect of a detailed account demonstrating an enduring relationship. Downing Street has confused the concept of 'involving' and 'because of'.
Actually, that cat seems like a pretty good piece of evidence if you wanted to prove a genuine long-term relationship. Buying a cat together isn't quite up there with a mortgage, perhaps, or a child, but I'd certainly take it into account.
The Home Office policy the couple used to stay together, DP3/96, no longer exists. It’s hard to stay in the UK now because of a romantic relationship unless you’re married – and even then many are rejected.
In a kinder, saner country, this would be the controversy. We would worry not about prisoners getting time with their girlfriends, but about British citizens being forced to pick between being with the person they love or having to leave their country. We would worry that couples should be forced to marry, regardless of their personal beliefs, just to satisfy a puritanical view of what constitutes a recognisable relationship.
In a kinder, saner country, we might even mention some of the things the right to family life has achieved, such as keeping elderly couples together when one of them is taken into care, or keeping domestic violence survivors with their children when defending them against their abuser.
That's not what Britain does anymore. In a debate over immigration the only acceptable position to adopt is meanness and inaccuracy. Anything else, apparently, is politically naive.