Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Theresa May discovers the perils of a Reckless pun

For him the European Court makes Stalin’s show trials look like models of justice

What a delicate flower Mark Reckless is. Given he’s one of the most fearsome members of the europhobic Tory awkward squad you’d expect him to be pretty thick-skinned. But he suffered a serious sense of humour failure when Theresa May tried a gentle – if fairly clunky – pun after he challenged her Abu Qatada statement.

“Dare I describe urging the Government to break the law as a rather reckless step?” ventured the Home Secretary.

OK, not exactly Mae West at her peak. But hardly enough to justify Reckless solemnly, and vainly, complaining to the Speaker on a point of order that she had “descended to what some might describe as personal abuse.”

To be fair to Reckless, he hadn’t explicitly suggested that Ms May should “break the law” as his ally Nadine Dorries, sitting next to him on the bench, appeared to do. “What is the worst thing that could happen to us if we did just put Abu Qatada on a plane?” she had asked.

Ms May did not point out that Ms Dorries’ choice of words was eerily reminiscent of those old TV commercials in which the voiceover asks “What’s the worst that can happen?” and a hapless Dr Pepper consumer is immediately exposed to some unforeseen catastrophe.

But she did insist that however irksome the block placed on the deportation by the European Court of Human Rights, as long as Britain was subject to it, “we should abide by the rule of law”.

Reckless, in whose eyes the European Court makes the tribunals which presided over Stalin’s show trials look like models of even-handed justice, had instead pressed Ms May directly – and, in the Home Secretary’s almost certainly correct view, unworkably – to challenge its decision in the British courts.

All of which seemed a bit unfair given that Ms May seemed to be doing everything she could to reassure Tory MPs on the red-blooded right that she would be personally in favour of having nothing to do with the European Court – or the Human Rights Convention. “All the options” were on the table, she kept saying.

One super-pedantic quibble. MPs, including Ms May, often refer to Abu Qatada – which in Arabic just means “father of Qatada” – as plain “Qatada”. It’s like saying, to take an absurdly different example, “Randolph” when you mean “Winston Churchill”. To show their understandable distaste for the man – a thoroughly bad lot – they could just use his real surname. Which is Othman.

Only worth mentioning of course, because this one is likely to run and run.