Cat-gate continues: Downing Street backs May

By Ian Dunt

Downing Street has decided to back Theresa May in her spat with Ken Clarke, despite widespread reports suggesting her speech contained factual inaccuracies.

In an attack on the Human Rights Act, the home secretary mentioned an "illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat".

The quote was quickly rebutted by immigration lawyers and experts, who pointed out that the existence of the cat was taken as evidence of a foreign national's long-term relationship with a British national – not the reason for the judgement.

Ms May endured a public spat with Ken Clarke in the immediate aftermath of the speech, with the justice secretary offering a bet that the assertion was untrue.

Downing Street suggested Mr Clarke should take Ms May out for a "slap-up meal" and urged the justice secretary to back his colleague.

Meanwhile, foreign secretary William Hague took to the airwaves to insist the two figures "are very much on the same page".

He told Daybreak: "Theresa May and Ken Clarke are completely agreed about this policy in changing how we interpret article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"The country has to be able to have an immigration policy and the public interest in maintaining immigration policy has to be balanced against considerations of the family life of the people concerned.

"If some different words over a cat are the worst that's happened this week then things have gone pretty well on the whole."

Ken Clarke is investigating the case for a British bill of rights with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, but the two men are both passionate defenders of the Human Rights Act and are highly unlikely to suggest deviating from it.

Separately, the Home Office is investigating whether the interpretation given to article eight by European courts can be altered, although this is also unlikely to be successful.