Theresa May gets it wrong about a cat

The Home Secretary's conference speech shows she does not know what her own department is doing.

Today the Home Secretary got her facts wrong about a cat.

Speaking to the Conservative Party conference, Theresa May said:

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.

This story - one of a number of myths which those hostile to human rights law invoke without ever bothering to actually check - has been published before in newspapers, and it has already been dealt with by respected critical sites such as Full Fact and Tabloid Watch. All this was available to her speechwriters.

But what makes it worse is what was also known to her very own department.

The full determination of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal is here [PDF]. As Barry O'Leary, Partner at Wesley Gryk Solicitors, who acted for the foreign national, explains:

This case was not decided on the basis of a cat. It was decided on the basis of a Home Office policy which the Home Office themselves had failed to apply. This was accepted by the Home Office before the Immigration Judge and the Home Office agreed the appeal should be allowed. The ownership of a cat was immaterial. Any press reports to the contrary are, unfortunately, not based on fact.

The case involved a foreign national in a long term committed relationship with a British Citizen (they had been living together for four years at the time of the appeal.) He was not a foreign national prisoner.

I had made an application on the foreign national's behalf for the right to remain in the United Kingdom on the basis of a Home Office policy known as DP3/96.

The application was refused [by the Home Secretary] and my client appealed against that decision.

As part of the application and as part of the appeal, the couple gave detailed statements of the life they had built together in the United Kingdom to show the genuine nature and duration of their relationship. One detail provided, amongst many, was that they had owned a cat together for some time.

The appeal was successful and when giving the reasons for the success the judge did comment on the couple's cat. It was taken into account as part of the couple's life together.

The [Home Secretary] asked for the decision to be reconsidered. They argued it should be reconsidered because the decision was wrong in law, and one error they cited was that too much consideration was given to the couple's cat.

The [Home Secretary] was given permission to put the arguments to the tribunal and the decision of the tribunal is that of [Senior Immigration Judge] Gleeson.

It was decided by [Senior Immigration Judge] Gleeson that the first judge's decision was correct. As is clear from the determination, she came to this decision because the [Home Secretary] in refusing the application had not applied their own policy DP3/96 (which had been withdrawn but the transitional provisions should have been applied to my client).

It was made clear by the initial judge and then by [Senior Immigration Judge] Gleeson that the Appellant should benefit from that policy and be granted the right to remain.

Furthermore, it was accepted by the Home Office representative at the hearing before [Senior Immigration Judge] Gleeson that the policy should apply and any other errors in the initial decision by the judge (including too much detail on the cat) were immaterial.

See paragraph 6 of the determination. It makes clear that it is the former policy DP3/96 which is the basis on which the appeal was won.

[Senior Immigration Judge] Gleeson does go on to make a joke about the cat, clearly because she recognized that the discussion of the cat was irrelevant to the serious issue of applying Home Office policies correctly.

This case was won because the Home Office had a policy which they did not initially apply but later, through their representative, they accepted should have been applied.

What this means is that not only was the cat immaterial to the tribunal decision for the foreign citizen to remain, but that the Home Secretary's own representative fully accepted that the cat was immaterial to the decision.

So the Home Secretary in making her speech today not only got the facts of the case wrong, she also said something known by her own department to be untrue.

And I am not making this up.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

Show Hide image

Theresa May's big thinker - an interview with George Freeman

The Conservative policy board chair on the meaning of Brexit, state intervention and whether "Mayism" exists.

Theresa May’s three months as Prime Minister have been marked by ruthless changes of both personnel and policy, from grammar schools to fiscal targets. The man tasked with overseeing the latter is George Freeman, a newly bearded 49-year-old who jokingly describes himself as “a designated thinker”.

“It’s a huge privilege,” Freeman told me when we met recently in Westminster. “As [May] has indicated, she’s determined to open up the policymaking process to good ideas from a much wider pool.”

After entering parliament as the MP for Mid Norfolk in 2010, Freeman distinguished himself as one of the most intellectually energetic Tory MPs. He founded the 2020 group of Conservative modernisers and became the first ever life sciences minister in 2014. Before this, he had worked for 15 years as a biotech entrepreneur.

Politics is in his blood. The Liberal prime minister William Gladstone was his great-great-great-uncle and Mabel Philipson, the first female Conservative MP, his great-aunt. Yet Freeman attributes his reformist zeal to the belief that “with privilege comes responsibility”. He boarded at Radley College after his parents, both alcoholics, divorced and has spoken of his “emotionally damaged” childhood.

It is unsurprising that May, confronted by the greatest policy challenge since 1945 – EU withdrawal – has called on his services. The chair of the Prime Minister’s policy board, to give Freeman his official title, was a passionate Remainer but told me “we are now all Brexiteers”. The “Brexit roar”, he explained, was “a mixture of very deeply felt concerns and complaints about globalisation, powerlessness and the growing gap between London and [other] places . . .

“There’s an understanding that if we simply delivered Brexit, and didn’t tackle the rest, we would only have dealt with some of the problem.”

His ambition was “to do for our generation what Disraeli did in the 19th century, in understanding that the extraordinarily challenging pace of franchise extension was also a huge opportunity to harness and fashion a New Model Conservative Party”.

Besides abandoning the surplus target (“to boost growth and investment in infrastructure”), Freeman cited welfare policy as a point of departure. The government would “better differentiate” between changes in the welfare budget and systemic reform – a division that May believes was eroded by George Osborne.

The Prime Minister underlined her commitment to industrial strategy by naming a new department after it. But what does it mean? “I think there is a recognition that we are embracing something unrecognisable from the failed ‘beer and sandwiches’ interventionism of the Sixties and Seventies,” Freeman said. “Twenty-first-century Conservative industrial strategy is about backing our science, innovation and knowledge economy, and other sectors where we have serious global leadership.” He spoke of “stepping in where only the state can”, citing the publicly funded Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility, which he recently visited with the astronaut Tim Peake. The government must be not merely “pro-enterprise”, but “more enterprising”.

May has endured her heaviest dissent over education, and Freeman was notably lukewarm about the idea of new grammar schools. “As well as her position” on the latter, he emphasised, “the Prime Minister set out a much broader vision”. Asked whether he understood MPs’ objections to academic selection, he said “there will be all the usual consultation and discussions through parliament about specific measures”.

The Prime Minister has entered office with greater ideological definition to her thinking than David Cameron, who struggled to reconcile his early vision with austerity. Can we speak of “Mayism”? “I’m not sure the ‘ism’ is helpful or appropriate at this stage. The Prime Minister is very strongly driven by her conservative values, and converting those values into effective policies to tackle the challenges we face. I think we have to wait for the judgement of history to define the ism.”

Freeman is close to “DC” (as he calls Cameron) and praised his premiership. “I was very sorry to see him go. But in the end, given the way the referendum turned out, it was inevitable. I thought he handled that whole last week in the most exemplary way: typical of the man. In time, I think he will come to be recognised as a transformational leader who brought the Conservative Party to terms with modern Britain.”

He rejected the former education secretary Nicky Morgan’s suggestion that May would struggle to “reach into” the marginal seats that the Tories won under Cameron. “Theresa May is appealing widely across whole swaths of the country as a One-Nation leader,” he declared.

With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, Freeman said, “the centre ground of British politics, once dominated by Blair and New Labour, has been vacated . . . That is a huge opportunity for a One-Nation Conservative Party to demonstrate our relevance beyond our core vote to those around the country who have clearly felt so marginalised.”

Corbyn’s triumph “illustrates the extraordinary challenge for mainstream political parties in this age of asymmetric, post-Brexit politics . . . We now have to use the opportunity of incumbency in government to tackle the root causes of the insurgency that has taken out the Labour Party.”

Freeman acknowledged the risk that Labour’s divisions would produce an internal Tory opposition.

“It also creates a question for the Conservative Party. Will we turn in on ourselves and generate our own arguments, or unite and reach out into the space that Corbyn has vacated?” 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories