Theresa May finally backs Sajid Javid in 'IS Beatles' death penalty row

Posted On: 
23rd July 2018

Theresa May agrees with Sajid Javid's decision not to call for two UK-born Islamic State jihadists to be spared the death penalty, the Government has confirmed.

It was previously unclear if Theresa May and Sajid Javid were at odds over the issue
Credit: 
PA Images

Downing Street this morning refused to say the Prime Minister was behind the controversial call not to seek the usual assurances from the US that the pair would be spared execution as part of an agreement to share evidence.

But just hours later the Government changed its tune to insist Mrs May was supportive of the decision by Home Secretary Mr Javid and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson - as top Tory MPs piled in to attack the move.

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Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh - two of the Islamic State cell from west London dubbed ‘the Beatles’ - are set to face trial after being captured in Syria in January.

In a letter to US attorney general Jeff Sessions last month, Mr Javid said he would not be seeking assurances that the pair will not face execution if they are tried in the country.

The move appears to be a marked change of approach for the UK government, which does not support the death penalty and usually insists it is ruled out as an option in cases where Britain sends information or suspects.

Answering an urgent question on the row in the Commons, security minister Ben Wallace said: “The Prime Minister was aware of the decision - the decision was made between the Home Office and the Foreign Office - and she agrees.”

Meanwhile a Downing Street spokesperson said Mrs May “was aware of these plans and supports the way that this has been handled”.

'HAUNT'

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve said key questions would “continue to haunt” the Government if they are left unanswered and said seeking the assurances would have been “perfectly proper”.

And former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “On human rights we cannot distinguish between good and bad people. Human rights are indivisible and belong to everybody.”

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said the decision was “abhorrent and shameful” while Home Affairs Select Committee Yvette Cooper accused the Government of having “ripped up” its principles.

But Mr Wallace suggested calling on the US not to use the death penalty could "get in the way" of the case going to trial although he said the Trump administration had not asked for the assurance to be skipped. 

And he said an alternative route could have ended up with the pair being “free to roam around the UK” and confirmed reports they have been stripped of their British citizenship.

He added: “I cannot currently go into the exact details of this case because this is currently under investigation and to do so it is a danger to undermine the operation.”

In his letter to Mr Sessions, the Home Secretary had said: "I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought.”

The decision has sparked outrage from human rights groups and was questioned by former indepependent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile.