Comment: Theresa May can’t even get moral failure right

Dennis McShane stood down as an MP for claiming £12,900 in falsified receipts. David Laws resigned from the Cabinet after wrongly claiming £40,000 in rent. Speaker Michael Martin stepped down over his failure to get a grip on the situation.

Such modest amounts of money. Such a definitive end to a political career.

It is a shame we are not always so worked up about public money.

On Friday, Theresa May spent somewhere between £95,000 and £180,000 on a chartered flight to deport Isa Muazu.

He had originally been meant to be deported on a Virgin Atlantic flight the previous Wednesday, but the removal was mysteriously cancelled following a public campaign aimed at the company.

May's alternative was expensive and, as it turned out, completely useless. The plane never made it to Nigeria. Despite assurances that she had informed Nigerian officials of the flight, May had not secured landing authorisations.

So, after 20 hours of flying and an protracted pit stop in Malta, Muazu was returned to the UK.

MPs had a full hour this morning to ask a question about this act of supreme incompetence. Not one of them chose to do so.

If they could not ask about the money, perhaps they could have asked about the moral position May has put herself – and by implication this country – in.

When Muazu was forcibly removed he had not eaten for over 90 days, due to his hunger strike protest. He could not stand or see. He weighed just 50 kilograms. He could barely talk. Doctors advised against letting him fly, but May pursued the case with a ferocity which alarmed human rights groups.

The UK previously took immigrant hunger strikers off the deportation programme because it has a legal duty to prioritise their health to the same standard as NHS patients. This time – with one eye on the rising number of hunger strikers in etention centres – May held her ground.

Whatever you think of the case, this was a substantial moral decision. The home secretary was prepared to allow a man to die rather than intervene. The immigration system had been deemed of greater importance than saving his life.

This is the type of issue which should be discussed on the floor of the Commons. But repeated efforts to secure an urgent question by Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert have not been successful.

Last week, that was intolerable. The appeal court had already given its ruling. The matter was not subject to ongoing legal proceedings except in the most literal way imaginable.

This week, it is a total failure of democratic scrutiny.

The decision not to have the matter debated in the Commons makes even less sense when you consider that the Lords will hear Lord Roberts of Llandudno's question on the issue on Wednesday.

There is no point asking the Home Office anything. Spokespeople for the department always rely on old lie that they do not comment on individual cases.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As the case of Abu Hamza showed, the home secretary is capable of giving a minute-by-minute updates of an individual case when the mood takes her.

The 'no comment on individual cases' line is a blanket defence against scrutiny. One might be able to justify the department's reticence when asked to comment on details of a case but the refusal to even divulge operational information has no justification whatsoever. It is a shield which they hide behind while they exercise executive power.

But the truth is the avenues are there, if only we had a political class with the moral or intellectual standing to take them. MPs this morning had plenty of time during Home Office questions.

Philip Hollobone stood up to tell the Commons that "my constituents in Kettering believe this country is full". His mental capacity is evidently so diminished he is unaware that Britain is not a container, but a country. If it is anything, it is covered. If this is the type of man the Tories put forward for election and who voters select, it is hardly surprising MPs appear unable to satisfy their democrat function.

One after another MPs stood up to express their opposition to Bulgarians and Romanians coming the UK. Plenty of well-versed subjects were brought up, mostly because they were read in the newspaper this morning over breakfast.

But Isa Muazu was not mentioned. The issue of a starving man being deported against the advice of doctors did not warrant MPs attention. The pointless waste of up to £180,000 of taxpayers' money did not interest them.

The home secretary has taken a life-or-death moral decision in the name of the country. And she did so with such staggering incompetence that the plane was immediately returned to the UK. She can't even get moral failure right.

In any sane country this would be a resignation issue. After all, when a previous home secretary's husband was caught watching porn at public expense that was talked about as if it was a resignation issue. This seems somewhat higher up the moral scale.

Instead it is an irrelevance – ignored by MPs and most of the media. She has not had to answer a single question about it. It is a failure of democratic accountability.

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