In Keith Vaz’s view, Theresa May is now engaged in one of the great mano a mano struggles of our time. True, while the term originated in the bullfighting arena, he prefers a sporting analogy closer to home: “It’s like one of those long-running Wimbledon finals in the fifth set. May vs Qatada. It seems to go on for ever and ever…”
Vaz did not actually say that the super-radical Islamist cleric and his ingenious lawyers were all that stood between her and the Tory leadership candidacy, for which she was recently touted. But he came pretty close. “You have made this a key feature of your role as Home Secretary, getting rid of this man,” he told her, adding hastily: “by legal means I should say,” as if worried he was putting ideas in her head.
But as if Qatada wasn’t enough, Ms May also had to deal with her fellow Tory Mark Reckless, MP. Reckless is an able barrister with City experience. But to say that he is obsessed with the evils of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in particular would be to understate the case.
He accused her of “craven surrender” to the ECHR by refusing to “test” its Qatada judgment in the Supreme Court. This seemed a bit unfair given that she has tried to ingratiate herself with the Tory right by suggesting the UK might eventually withdraw from the Court’s ambit altogether.
She was also pressed on a tendency by some of the newly elected Police and Crime Commissioners to spend cash on activities not that relevant to protecting the public. Specifically, in Cumbria, where information leaked to the regional press that the local commissioner racked up £700 in expenses on trips in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes on dining trips with his wife has so far led to three arrests. Prosecutions were a matter for the police, she said.
The Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert was perturbed that on the Thursday before Ms May announced that she was taking over the functions of the UK Border Agency, a ministerial written answer said it was all going swimmingly.
So if the Government in future said that a “government body was on a sure footing that doesn’t exclude the possibility that a decision has been taken to abolish it?”
Ms May replied: “The Home Office will make a statement which it believes appropriate at the time it makes it.” Gleeful cries all round of “Yes Minister.”