Donald Macintyre's Sketch: A sacked Attorney General gives the Prime Minister some very public advice


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Indy Politics

An Attorney General who does his job by giving his cabinet colleagues sound advice, whether they like it or not, may be a nuisance. But at least he does it in private. The problem with sacking him, as David Cameron is rapidly discovering, is that he then tends to give unpalatable advice in public.

So yesterday, Dominic Grieve, who lost his job after pointing out the perils of withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights, went further than other doubters in questioning the PM’s latest wheeze of stopping British jihadists from returning to Britain.

“Not only does it offend principles of international law,” suggested Grieve with lethal courtesy, “it actually would offend basic principles of our own common law as well.” Like the good lawyer he is, he suggested that “the best course must be to bring these individuals to justice,” and that “we have actually been quite successful in doing just that”.

No one was frivolous enough to mention the possibility that a small minority of those returning, so far from being irretrievably “radicalised”, might actually be thinking “sod that for a lark. I’d rather go back to uni and study botany.” But the Lib Dems’ Menzies Campbell also wondered about the “practicality” of a draconian, albeit temporary, ban. “Who would decide? Would any such suspension be without limited time and… would any appeal be appropriate?”

Sir Peter Tapsell, father of the house, and the only man for several centuries to use “Arabia” as a geographic term, said that we should never have supported the “Sunni uprising” against Syrian President Bashar Assad, thus “intervening in a religious civil war which has already lasted for 1,300 years”. Sir Peter has the uncanny knack of making it sound as though he was already around when that whole show started.

The PM didn’t agree. Nor to be fair, did most MPs. Such was the unsurprising consensus in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isis, that Cameron welcomed not only Ed Miliband’s broad support for his general approach – the abandonment of control orders apart – but the constructive “tone” in which it had been delivered.

Cameron had begun his statement by welcoming the appointment of Polish premier Donald Tusk as president of the European Council, saying later that his statements on British “concerns” about the EU were “positive”. Rather more positive, he might have added, than when Tusk had responded to Cameron’s “concerns” about benefits paid to EU immigrants.

According to his spokesman in a fruity, secretly taped phone conversation, Tusk had “[expletived] him up good, had such a proper [expletiving] go at him.”

Cameron, who supported Tusk’s candidacy, had obviously thought: “Oh, [Expletive] it. We might as well go with the flow.”