Home Affairs Correspondent
The owners of Harrods, Mohamed and Ali al-Fayed, have lost their High Court battle with the Home Secretary to become British citizens - but they have not yet lost the war.
For while ruling that Michael Howard's decision to deny the Egyptian- born brothers a United Kingdom passport - without giving any reasons or right of representation - was lawful, the judge questioned whether the law should be changed.
Mr Justice Judge declared the procedure "lacked the appearance of fairness" and suggested that the Home Secretary should "urgently" look again at the case of the millionaire brothers, who have spent 30 years in this country. He gave them leave to take their case to the Court of Appeal.
The judge said that although there had been a strong trend in recent years to require that ministers give reasons to those adversely affected by their decisions, Mr Howard, in maintaining his silence, had been lawfully exercising powers given to him under the 1981 British Nationality Act.
Ever since the brothers' separate applications were simultaneously dismissed last year, it has been suggested that the decision was politically motivated and prompted by a series of run-ins with the Government.
Mohamed al-Fayed, the Harrods chairman, was the source of the "cash-for- questions" allegations that resulted in the resignation of two junior ministers, Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith. Mr Fayed was also behind allegations concerning the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury Jonathan Aitken's stay at the brothers' Ritz Hotel in Paris - allegations fiercely denied by Mr Aitken.
But the court was told that neither Mohammed 63, nor Ali, 52, had been given any explanation for the refusal, nor any opportunity to comment upon any reservations the Home Office and ministers may have had about their claims. Their counsel, Michael Beloff QC, said it was the "epitome of closed government".
Mohamed al-Fayed said the ruling was a "moral victory" and confirmed he and his brother would appeal, adding: "I will not rest until I have exposed the truth, as I have done in the past with other government matters."Reuse content