Abu Qatada fallout could benefit UKIP in Corby by-election
Only party committed to withdrawing from ECHR is targeting Louise Mensch's former supporters
THERE are fears among senior Tories that the backlash over Abu Qatada being allowed to stay in Britain will have an impact on Thursday's by-election in Corby.
Conservatives are already resigned to losing Louise Mensch's very marginal seat to Labour. Now they fear a late swing to UKIP, the only party committed to pulling out of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
If UKIP can begin to win over eurosceptic Tory voters in big enough numbers, then David Cameron can kiss goodbye to victory in the General Election in 2015 unless he reaches a pact with the breakaway party.
Anti-European feelings will certainly have been fuelled this morning by the intervention of former counter-terrorism minister Baroness (Pauline) Neville-Jones. Speaking on the Today programme, the Tory peer said yesterday's ruling by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) was "making a monkey of the system".
She appeared to give her full support to furious Tory eurosceptic MPs such as Peter Bone who are asking: "Why can't we just put him on the next plane out of Britain?"
Neville-Jones said Britain should be free to act as it liked over Abu Qatada without any interference from the European Court of Human Rights. "Deportation is an executive power," she said. "I share the view that the executive ought to be able to exercise that power against someone who is not a British citizen."
In effect, she was saying Britain should give two fingers to SIAC, and the ECHR which underpins it, and send Abu Qatada back to Jordan to face trial for terrorism.
Home Secretary Theresa May made it clear to Tory MPs yesterday she would not give a two-fingered salute to the ECHR. After Neville-Jones's comments this morning, backbenchers will want to know why.
Instead, May is talking about getting the King of Jordan – due to visit Downing Street shortly - to tweak the Jordanian constitution to say it won't allow witness evidence obtained under torture. This might finally persuade SIAC and the ECHR that Abu Qatada can be deported. But that would mean going back to square one against Abu Qatada in the UK, and it could take years.
One senior Tory who saw this coming is Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. He opened the door to Britain leaving the ECHR in an interview with ConservativeHome last week. The world, he said, has changed since the human rights convention was drawn up. People "who have an avowed intent to try to do damage to our society" are trying to use the ECHR to stop deportation, and the court and its jurisprudence "have moved far, far away from the original intention of the authors of the convention".
Even Nick Clegg, the Europhile leader of the Lib Dems, said this morning that Abu Qatada does not "belong" in Britain and the coalition would do everything it could to deport the radical cleric.
"We're determined to deport him," he told ITV's Daybreak. "We strongly disagree with the court ruling, we're going to challenge it, we're going to take it to appeal. We're absolutely determined to see this man get on a plane and go back to Jordan.
So much for hot air. Meanwhile, Abu Qatada is rubbing his hands with glee... along with UKIP leader Nigel Farage.