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Thursday, April 19, 2012 

From bean to cup, they fuck up.

Omnishambles. The more time that goes by, the more I'm convinced that The Thick of It is the best comedy of 00s; yes, Peep Show is superb and the first series at least of Nighty Night is great, but neither compare with the sheer majesty of Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker and the virtuosity of the writing. The great irony is that even as the language of the show is apparently being used in Number 10 to describe the budget fiasco of their own making, the show itself didn't manage to come up with something as farcical as the latest twist in the Abu Qatada saga.

In truth, the last minute appeal by Qatada's canny lawyers to the European Court of Human Rights's grand chamber shouldn't really make any difference. It was going to take months if not another year or more for his deportation to take place as he would have almost certainly appealed to the ECHR again anyway. Theresa May in her statement to the Commons on Tuesday said as much; those briefing the media however said that the hope was to deport him by the end of this month, something that was never going to happen. If rather than appearing completely triumphalist on Tuesday she had instead made clear that this was simply the next stage but that the end was in sight, the whole thing would not have blown up in her face as completely as it has.

As Carl Gardner writes, it's not immediately clear who's right on whether the deadline for an appeal was the Monday or the Tuesday, although it looks more likely at this moment that it's the court and not the government. Assuming that it is the court, the cock-up would still have been the equivalent of a semi-on if May and the briefers had not gone so to town on how this meant Qatada was as good as on a plane being manhandled by the finest from G4S. Instead it just feeds wholly into the narrative of how this government currently can't do anything right, that like Nicola Murray, from bean to cup, they fuck up.

Or at least this appeared to be the case. According to Justice Mitting's SIAC ruling (PDF) revoking Qatada's bail, if the ECHR's rule 39 injunction against deportation had been lifted as neither side appealed, then the process could have been a relative formality. May could have "short-circuited" the process by declaring an attempt by Qatada to quash the original deportation order as clearly unfounded, leaving his only avenues of appeal the Divisional Court and then the Court of Appeal, without the process having to start all over again at SIAC. Any further appeal to the ECHR would then apparently have to be conducted from Jordan. While it's still dubious this could have all been accomplished in 10 days, Qatada may well have been gone within "a few short weeks" rather than months.

If accurate, and again this isn't certain, then it really has been a colossal balls-up. The grand chamber might well rule that Qatada's appeal was out of time, or alternatively dismiss it as there is no danger that he personally will be tortured in Jordan, as the court ruled. This though will take at least at least a couple of months, or potentially if it does decide to hear it much longer. In the meantime, Mitting may well decide that while the process rumbles along Qatada can be safely bailed again. Having all but waved him goodbye, Qatada is left once again having the last laugh, or at least smirk. May, meanwhile, is looking like this.

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