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The Government is wary about the Abu Qatada situation – it’s right to be

By Peter Hoskin
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Could it really be that simple? After years of political and legal struggle, could Abu Qatada really just leave the UK voluntarily? That, after all, is what his legal team suggested in court yesterday. Their client, they claimed, would be happy leaving on a jet-plane for Jordan so long as he could be guaranteed a fair trial there. If our Parliament and Jordan’s ratify the treaty that Theresa May recently arranged, he’d hightail it out of here – and that could happen within months. Like I said, could it really be that simple?

It would be nice were it so, and not least because it would erase a particularly troublesome and persistent item from the Government’s to-do list. David Cameron could barely contain his enthusiasm for the idea yesterday, as he exclaimed “if he goes of his own accord, frankly, I’ll be one of the happiest people in Britain.”

But the rest of Government is being more restrained for now. Sources I’ve chatted to are hyper-aware of two potential problems with this latest development. The first is the possibility for political fallout even if Qatada leaves voluntarily – or, indeed, precisely because Qatada might leave voluntarily. As the Sun puts it in its editorial this morning, “Since when was it up to convicted terrorists to lay down their own conditions for extradition?” Tory backbenchers may still chafe at the European laws that have prevented us from just kicking him out.

This helps explain why the same sources are eager to point to the pressure that the Government has exerted on Qatada. There’s the treaty itself, but also the ongoing legal action that Mrs May referred to in her recent appearance before the home affairs select committee. If he does go, they suggest, it wouldn’t be of his own free will – but in fear of a life made difficult in Britain.

But that brings us to the second problem, the Big Question Mark that hangs over all this: would Qatada actually leave? There are those in the Home Office who have their doubts. As one tells the Sun today, “Our feeling is he is saying this to get bail. The timing of this move is significant and we don’t believe him.” The thinking is that he’s just playing cooperative to get out of jail, and will then revert to being obstinate again. Only once he’s boarded a plane out of here will such suspicions fade.


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