Ministers look at Abu Qatada options

Abu Qatada
Image caption Efforts to deport Abu Qatada have lasted a decade

The idea of Britain temporarily leaving the European Convention on Human Rights in order to deport Abu Qatada was not discussed at a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister on Tuesday - contrary to some reports.

David Cameron called the meeting to insist that senior ministers - including the home and justice secretaries and the attorney general - "consider all the options" if the latest strategy for deporting Qatada does not succeed.

Theresa May told MPs that she believed a new treaty with Jordan would finally allow Abu Qatada to be returned for trail there - albeit after another lengthy legal process. Jordan has agreed to change its law to ensure that no evidence obtained by torture could be used in his case.

The home secretary went on to say: "We should have all options, including leaving the convention altogether on the table."

However, it is clear that this is under consideration not as a short-term solution to the Abu Qatada problem but for possible inclusion in the next Conservative manifesto.

The Liberal Democrats have made clear that they would not stay in the coalition if the prime minister proposed pulling out of the convention. No country has left since the Greek military junta withdrew in the early 1970s.

Furthermore, Whitehall sources say that the Home Office legal advice is that, even if Britain did leave the convention, Abu Qatada's case would not be affected by the new legal situation.

Downing Street is keen to stress the prime minister's impatience with the 10-year legal fight and his determination to do whatever is necessary to see him deported before the next election.

They suggest that Nick Clegg and the Liberal democrats would have questions to answer if they stood in the way of anything that prevented Abu Qatada's deportation.

One idea being considered by Conservative ministers is to invite MPs of all parties to support a motion demonstrating their opposition to court rulings - as was used on the issue of prisoner voting rights.

This would also allow the Tories to put the Lib Dems on the spot on the issue.

Ministers have rejected the idea of simply putting the suspected terrorist on a plane, as to do so they would have order police and immigration officers to break the law.

There are plans in a forthcoming immigration bill to change the law to allow people to be deported and appeal against the decision from abroad instead of, as now, in the UK.

Ministers are also examining ways to streamline and speed up the appeals process in such cases.