No evidence asylum seekers have used pets to argue against deportation

13 December 2021
What was claimed

Article Eight of the Human Rights Act sets out a right to private and family life and therefore is allowing asylum seekers to argue that because they have a cat or dog their deportation should be halted.

Our verdict

We could find no evidence that this has ever been successfully put forward as a reason for an asylum seeker to be granted the right to remain in the UK. A similar claim made in 2011 by Theresa May was widely debunked at the time.

Article Eight expresses a right to private and family life. And what we have seen is asylum seekers, quote, they have a cat or a dog at home that constitutes their family life. And as a consequence of this, their removal from this country should be halted. Theresa May, when she was Prime Minister, highlighted this many years ago.

Conservative MP Scott Benton recently claimed during an episode of Politics Live that asylum seekers had argued against their removal from the UK because they have a pet dog or cat. 

While discussing the Nationality and Borders Bill, which was voted through the House of Commons by MPs last week, Mr Benton made the argument that for the new legislation, in his view, to be successful, the Human Rights Act should be reformed. 

Citing former Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr Benton said Article Eight of the Human Rights Act, which protects the right to a private and family life, had been used to argue that an asylum seeker should remain in the UK because they had a pet. 

Other guests on the show immediately disputed this, but Mr Benton claimed that the “fundamentals of the case were correct”. 

As was reported widely at the time (including by us) Mrs May was incorrect when she made this claim during her time as Home Secretary. In 2011 there had been no reported cases of an asylum seeker being able to remain in the country due to owning a cat, and Full Fact could find no evidence of this having been applied in the decade since. 

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, who wrote about Mrs May’s comments in 2011, told Full Fact: “It was nonsense 10 years ago and it remains nonsense now. A member of parliament should not be citing debunked myths to justify fundamentally important policy proposals.” 

We contacted Mr Benton’s office for comment but have not received a response. 

As previous reports of Mrs May’s comments set out, it appears that the former Home Secretary was referring to a 2008 case in which a Bolivian student successfully appealed against deportation due to the fact he was in a long-term relationship with a UK citizen. Their joint ownership of a cat was mentioned in the judge’s decision, though there was no suggestion this was the reason he could stay.  

In 2011 Channel 4 FactCheck spoke with the lawyer, Barry O’Leary, who represented the Bolivian student. Mr O’Leary said: “We were never arguing on the basis that the cat was material. We argued that there is a Home Office policy they should have applied in this case because of the long term nature of the couple’s relationship.

“The immigration judge found that was the reason the appeal should be allowed.”

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office said at the time: “This was a case in which the Home Office conceded that they had mistakenly failed to apply their own policy – applying at that time to that appellant – for dealing with unmarried partners of people settled in the UK.

“That was the basis for the decision to uphold the original tribunal decision – the cat had nothing to do with the decision.” 

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted Scott Benton to ask him for evidence to back up his claim.

He did not respond.

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