The departure of Abu Qatada, Britain’s most unwelcome visitor since Rudolf Hess, to his native Jordan was both welcome and inevitable.
As with all preachers of hate, the UK is not and should not be obliged to provide safe house for them, provided it is clear that they will not come to harm in their home state. That is the essence of the principle of asylum. In this very high-profile case, the balance has been tipped towards sending him back.
His return journey to Jordan was not overdue, despite the fact that he exasperated the Home Secretary and made the Prime Minister’s blood boil. Extraditing someone to a regime such as Jordan’s should necessarily be difficult. In the end, we reached the right result, and that is the correct lesson to draw. It is the mark of a civilised society that due process be followed in these cases.
So the triumph of Theresa May is really a triumph for the current arrangements. Her patient, methodical approach to this particular turbulent preacher was effective in the end. Seen in that perspective, there is no demonstrable need to change our relations with European law or to diminish the power of our own independent judiciary. But the temptation for Mrs May to make the most of this is already proving irresistible. She was touring the studios yesterday on a “victory lap”.
Now she will hope to join the ranks of the Government’s other relatively successful minister, Michael Gove, and Boris Johnson as a credible alternative to George Osborne as a successor to David Cameron when the time comes. This posturing may well improve the odds for her to become leader of her party, but it serves the country badly. She might do better to rise visibly above the temptations of political advantage and display a more measured demeanour. For the woman who once had the guts to tell the Conservative conference that it was the “nasty party”, the moment of her victory in this case is not the time for her to develop her own nasty streak.