Clarke dismisses calls for resignation after new ‘catflap’ row

By Ian Dunt

Ken Clarke brushed aside calls for his resignation today after he called Theresa May's conference speech "laughable and child-like".

The war of words between the justice secretary and the home secretary kicked off during the Conservative party gathering when Ms May wrongly cited a case in which a Bolivian man was allowed to stay in the UK because of his cat.

In fact, the judgement had taken the cat as a piece of evidence relating to the man's long-term relationship with his partner, but the ensuing mockery of the speech did not prevent Downing Street siding with the home secretary.

Both Cabinet secretaries were called into No 10 today to talk over their spat with the prime minister, after which they left together.

"It's not only the judges that all get furious when the home secretary makes a parody of a court judgement, our commission who are helping us form our view on this are not going to be entertained by laughable child-like examples being given," Mr Clarke told the Nottingham Post.

"We have a policy and in my old-fashioned way when you serve in a government you express a collective policy of the government, you don't go round telling everyone your personal opinion is different."

He added: "I sat and listened to Theresa's speech and I'll have to be very polite to Theresa when I meet her, but in my opinion she should really address her researchers and advisers very severely for assuring her that a complete nonsense example in her speech was true."

Once the interview became public Mr Clarke said he "rather" regretted his "colourful language" but branded the matter "old news".

He added: "I consider this issue closed."

But several right-wing commentators and MPs demanded his resignation for publicly humiliating a Cabinet colleague.

The new comments highlight a growing schism between Cabinet secretaries, with attorney general Dominic Grieve, Mr Clarke and Liberal Democrats squaring up against right-wingers such as Ms May and defence secretary Liam Fox.

Nick Clegg raised the stakes at the start of conference season with a pledge to the Lib Dems that the Human Rights Act was here to stay, a move which also irritated Mr Clarke.

"Governments work well when ministers stick to the collectively-agreed line," he said.

The justice secretary even joked that he would need "body armour" the next time he met Ms May.

"I expect I will have to wear body armour the next time I meet Theresa," he told the newspaper.

"She was at the thing I was at last night but I thought it was too soon to go over and greet her and say ‘it wasn’t my fault’."