It was with cheers that Conservative MPs greeted Theresa May’s announcement that Abu Qatada has been arrested and will be deported to Jordan at the end of the month. Having decided not to contest the European Court of Human Rights ruling blocking Qatada’s deportation, the government has received “assurances” from Jordan that evidence obtained by torture will not be used against him. After nine years, it looks as if the man who allegedly acted as the intellectual inspiration for 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and other terrorists is on his way home.
But ministers are keenly aware that the Tory backbenches won’t be satisfied for long. In her statement to the Commons, May pointedly referred to the need for “a British Bill of Rights”. As things stand, for instance, the government is unlikely to win its appeal against the ECHR’s ruling in favour of prisoners’ votes and it may struggle to deport other extremist preachers. But as long as the Tories remain in coalition with the Lib Dems, it’s hard to see any progress being made towards a British bill. The government commission examining the proposal is dominated by supporters of the ECHR (one Conservative appointee, Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, resigned in protest) and Clegg is determined not to see the Human Rights Act undermined. As he declared in his speech to last year’s Lib Dem conference:
The European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act are not, as some would have you believe, foreign impositions. These are British rights, drafted by British lawyers. Forged in the aftermath of the atrocities of the Second World War. Fought for by Winston Churchill. So 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.
Cameron’s recent statement that the Tories “would be going quite a bit faster, in fact, quite a lot faster” if they weren’t in coalition was an admission that the Lib Dems are winning this political tug-of-war.