'Cat-gate': May's speech rubbished for false claim

May wants the Human Rights Act scrapped
May wants the Human Rights Act scrapped

By Ian Dunt

Theresa May was the butt of conference jokes today after her speech lambasting the Human Rights Act was found to be inaccurate.

The home secretary tried to argue that article eight of the Act, which guarantees the right to family life, was preventing the deportation of criminals and cited the example of an "illegal immigrant" who could not be deported because of his pet cat.

"We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act," Ms May said.

"The violent drug dealer who cannot be sent home because his daughter – for whom he pays no maintenance – lives here. The robber who cannot be removed because he has a girlfriend.

"The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat."

Online commentators quickly started crowd-sourcing the cat story only to find that it was inaccurate.

The actual case was decided on the basis of a Home Office policy which it had itself failed to apply.

The cat was only mentioned in the case because the foreign national facing deportation had cited the cat as evidence of the length and nature of their romantic relationship with a British national.

The existence of the cat did not lead to the foreign national being allowed to stay in the UK, although it was accepted as relevant information by the judge.

“I had thought rather better of this home secretary than her dog whistle conference speech today," commented Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti.

"It is dangerously unbecoming of a Cabinet minister to misrepresent court judgments- especially where her own department conceded this case on appeal."

Sadiq Khan MP, shadow justice secretary, said: "The energy and time this government is spending on arguments about the Human Rights Act shows how completely out of touch it is with the British people who are not interested in cat fights between ministers but how the safety of their communities will be protected after cuts in police budgets which go too far and too fast."

The story is particularly embarrassing because it was Ms May's own department which accepted the reasons for the judgement and many delegates quickly began joking about 'cat-gate' on the conference's fringes.

The speech's attack on the Human Rights Act also irritated Ms May's colleagues, with justice secretary Ken Clarke offering Ms May a bet that the cat story was untrue.

"I remain of the view that the Human Rights Act needs to go," Ms May said.

"I can today announce that we will change the immigration rules to ensure that the misinterpretation of article eight of the ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights]– the right to a family life – no longer prevents the deportation of people who shouldn’t be here." 

Ms May's attack on the Act comes just two weeks after Nick Clegg told Liberal Democrats in no uncertain terms that it would not be scrapped.

"Let me say something really clear about the Human Rights Act. In fact I’ll do it in words of one syllable: It is here to stay," Mr Clegg said.

The deputy prime minister is examining the case for a British bill of rights with Mr Clarke. Both men are strong supporters of the Human Rights Act.


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