Theresa May's cat story unravels

Home Secretary falsely claimed that illegal immigrant was allowed to stay because of his pet cat.

Theresa May alarmed Tory delegates earlier today when she claimed that the Human Rights Act prevented the deportation of an illegal immigrant because he had a pet cat. She told the hall:

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 pet a cat.

But her story has since unravelled faster than the British economy. Shortly after her speech, the Judicial Office intervened and said the entire claim was a myth. A spokesperson said: "This was a case in which the Home Office conceded that they had mistakenly failed to apply their own policy - applying at that time to that appellant - for dealing with unmarried partners of people settled in the UK. That was the basis for the decision to uphold the original tribunal decision - the cat had nothing to do with the decision." (See David Allen Green's post for more of the legal details.)

For good measure, Ken Clarke popped up at a Telegraph fringe event and said that no one had ever avoided being deported for owning a cat. "I will have a small wager [with May]," he added. It looks like it's the Home Secretary who will be left out of pocket.

Update: May has promised that she "will look at it again". She told Sky News's Adam Boulton: "Of course everything that went into my speech was checked. I gather that there has been some question now from a spokesman questioning that and of course I will look at it again."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

How austere will Philip Hammond be?

The Chancellor must choose between softening or abandoning George Osborne's approach in his Autumn Statement. 

After becoming Chancellor, Philip Hammond was swift to confirm that George Osborne's budget surplus target would be abandoned. The move was hailed by some as the beginning of a new era of fiscal policy - but it was more modest than it appeared. Rather than a statement of principle, the abandonment of the 2019-20 target was merely an acceptance of reality. In the absence of additional spending cuts or tax rises, it would inevitably be missed (as Osborne himself recognised following the EU referendum). The decision did not represent, as some suggested, "the end of austerity".

Ahead of his first Autumn Statement on 23 November, the defining choice facing Hammond is whether to make a more radical break. As a new Resolution Foundation report notes, the Chancellor could either delay the surplus target (the conservative option) or embrace an alternative goal. Were he to seek a current budget suplus, rather than an overall one (as Labour pledged at the last general election), Hammond would avoid the need for further austerity and give himself up to £17bn of headroom. This would allow him to borrow for investment and to provide support for the "just managing" families (as Theresa May calls them) who will be squeezed by the continuing benefits freeze.

Alternatively, should Hammond merely delay Osborne's surplus target by a year (to 2020-21), he would be forced to impose an additional £9bn of tax rises or spending cuts. Were he to reject any further fiscal tightening, a surplus would not be achieved until 2023-24 - too late to be politically relevant. 

The most logical option, as the Resolution Foundation concludes, is for Hammond to target a current surplus. But since entering office, both he and May have emphasised their continuing commitment to fiscal conservatism ("He talks about austerity – I call it living within our means," the latter told Jeremy Corbyn at her first PMQs). For Hammond to abandon the goal of the UK's first budget surplus since 2001-02 would be a defining moment. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.