The trouble with Theresa May’s pussy

Theresa May feigns deep thought for the cameras
Theresa May feigns deep thought for the cameras

This morning Theresa May, the home secretary who looks increasingly like an extra from one of the later Harry Potter films, was talking tough on immigration and the Human Rights Act at the Conservative Party conference. These are two subjects that have the same effect on the Tory Party faithful as a jam-coated stick on a wasps’ nest, and just to stir things up good and proper Ms May threw in a couple of anecdotes from her favourite peer-reviewed journal, the Daily Mail:

“We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act. 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.” (speech posted at politics.co.uk)

Like all good writers of pulp fiction, May leaves the most startling revelation to the end. A cat? We may be a nation of animal lovers, but this is no surely no way to run an immigration system. Is a pet now effectively a passport to live in this country and soak up benefits indefinitely? Can we expect to see feckless economic migrants streaming out of the pet shop, flea-bitten moggy under one arm, cackling and claiming immunity from deportation?

Well, actually, no.

This story did the rounds a whole two years ago and was comprehensively debunked at the time. What really happened was that a Bolivian man who was facing deportation challenged the UK Border Agency on the grounds that he was settled in the country. The Home Office had a stated policy that couples who had lived together for two years or longer were entitled to credit in such cases. Since the Bolivian had been with his partner for four years, he contested his removal on these grounds. His lawyer, Barry O’Leary, then produced evidence at the Immigration Tribunal that the couple’s relationship was genuine and deep-rooted, among which was the minor detail that they had recently bought a pet cat together.

It must have been a long day at the tribunal, because the immigration judge was amused enough to include a line in his judgment about it. The Home Office appealed, claiming that the cat had been given undue prominence in the decision, but a senior immigration judge, Judith Gleeson, made clear in rejecting the appeal that the matter of the cat was irrelevant. Just for good measure, she threw in her own quip that the animal, who presumably now answers to the name of Lucky, “need no longer fear having to adapt to Bolivian mice”.

Needless to say, the Daily Mail took a somewhat different take on the case, basing their story on a largely accurate account in the Sunday Telegraph which was embellished by some characteristically feisty quotes from the excitable chaps at Migration Watch. Both were denounced in short order on the blog Tabloid Watch, where Mr O’Leary weighed in to the discussion.

One other point: there was no mention of the Human Rights Act anywhere in the case, which hinged on whether the Home Office had applied its own procedures (drawn up in London, not Brussels or Strasbourg) correctly. Surprise, surprise, it hadn’t. Its lawyers belatedly admitted as much at the appeal hearing, as this statement from the Judicial Communications Office makes clear: “This was a case in which the Home Office conceded that they had mistakenly failed to apply their own policy for dealing with unmarried partners of people settled in the UK.”

It’s a pity when newspapers misrepresent the facts of a legal case to feed the synthetic outrage of their readers, but when government ministers adopt the same tactics on a conference platform to prove their “toughness” on immigration it’s time to start worrying.

3 comments

    • Sorry you were offended by the title, but I have to say I find gratuitous misrepresentations of human rights laws a lot more offensive than references to Are You Being Served. Thanks for reading.

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