British ministers in flap over Bolivian's cat

5th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's cabinet tried to claw back some dignity Wednesday after a bizarre row between ministers over a claim that a Bolivian immigrant avoided deportation due to his pet cat.

Home Secretary Theresa May made the claim on Tuesday at her Conservative party's annual conference, saying that immigrants are taking advantage of Britain's Human Rights Act, which she wants to abolish.

She singled out "the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because -- I am not making this up -- he had a pet cat," in her speech to the rally in Manchester, northwest England.

But Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke pounced on her claim, despite also being Conservative himself.

"I'll have a small bet with her that nobody has ever been refused deportation on the grounds of the ownership of a cat," he said.

Judges then took the rare step of wading into a political row, with the judiciary issuing a statement saying there was not a whisker of truth in the claim that the cat -- named Maya -- lay behind the 2009 ruling.

"The cat had nothing to do with the decision," it said, instead blaming the interior ministry for failing to correctly apply its own policy for dealing with unmarried partners of people settled in Britain.

Aides to May later insisted she was right, saying the immigration judge who initially heard the case said the cat was a factor in his conclusion that the man and his partner enjoyed a family life together in the Britain.

Clarke appeared to be losing the row Wednesday, with Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly backing his interior minister now that she had produced evidence to back her claim.

Foreign Secretary William Hague sought to play down the cat spat, insisting that the ministers were "very much on the same page" when it came to the European convention on human rights which underpins the act.

"Theresa May and Ken Clarke are completely agreed about this policy in changing how we interpret Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights," he told ITV television.

May's Home Office said in July that it would review how Britain deals with Article 8, which guarantees "the right to a family life."

Immigrants have flocked to Britain in the past decade and Cameron's government, which rules in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, has vowed to slash immigration.

© 2011 AFP

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