Justice Secretary Ken Clarke says he regrets his “colourful language” when he accused Home Secretary Theresa May of making “laughable and childlike” comments about the human rights act.
His comments, made in an interview with the Nottingham Post newspaper, reignited the row that was sparked when Mrs May used her Tory conference speech to criticise the human rights act.
But Mr Clarke has now retreated from the “colourful language” he used in the newspaper interview.
In a statement, Mr Clarke said of his recent comments: “This is old news from an interview I gave during the Conservative Party Conference. I consider this issue closed. The Prime Minister has made the position clear, and I fully support it.
“There is a problem with deporting foreign prisoners, which I have always agreed with Theresa needs to be addressed. The Government’s Commission on a Bill of Rights is under way.
“I do rather regret the colourful language I used at one point in my interview.”
On Tuesday Mrs May told the hall about “the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat”.
Her comments were disputed on the day by the justice secretary, who bet Mrs May that she could not prove it.
As Channel 4 News’s FactCheck team discovered, the man in question was not an illegal immigrant, but a student who had overstayed his visa. The original decision to allow him to remain in the country was taken to an appeal by the Home Office.
The judge ruled in the man’s favour, not on the basis of his ownership of a cat, but because the Home Office had failed to follow its own rule that anyone in a relationship with a British citizen for over 2 years should usually be given the right to remain. At the time of the appeal, the Bolivian had been in a relationship for 4 years.
However at the end of his ruling Senior Immigration Judge Gleeson did comment “the cat .. need no longer fear having to adapt to Bolivian mice”.
On Wednesday the foreign secretary William Hague played down the row between his two cabinet colleagues, saying they were “very much on the same page”.
But Mr Clarke told the newspaper: “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.”
Mr Clarke’s latest outburst has been met with accusations of disloyalty from Conservative supporters. The conservative blogger Tim Montgomerie called for him to be sacked: “Since the election the justice secretary has been a constant source of trouble.
“He has objected to reform of human rights law, attempted to erode Michael Howard’s historically successful prison policies and caused a public uproar over insensitive remarks about rape.”