Jeremy Hunt has defended the decision to give Shamima Begum taxpayers’ money to help her fight the government’s decision to strip her of her British citizenship.
The foreign secretary admitted he was “very uncomfortable” with Ms Begum having access to legal aid but said the UK was a country that believed people should have full access to legal representation.
Ms Begum fled to join Isis in 2015, when she was 15, but has since said she wants to return to the UK. Her citizenship was removed by Sajid Javid, the home secretary, in February.
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She has successfully applied to the Legal Aid Agency for funding to help her appeal against the decision, according to reports.
Mr Hunt said Ms Begum “knew the choices she was making” when she joined the militant group but suggested it was right that she be considered for legal aid.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “On a personal level, it makes me very uncomfortable because she made a series of choices and she knew the choices she was making, so I think we made decisions about her future based on those choices.
“However, we are a country that believes that people with limited means should have access to the resources of the state if they want to challenge the decisions the state has made about them and, for obvious reasons, those decisions are made independent from politicians.”
He added: “The decision to deprive her of her citizenship was taken by a politician. Obviously the decision about whether she accesses legal aid or not has to be done independently.”
The foreign secretary was speaking from Japan after meeting Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, and holding talks about a future trade deal between the two countries.
He warned of the impact that the “paralysis” over Brexit was having on the UK’s international standing, saying other countries feared Britain would be “submerged in the mire of Brexit indecision”.
He said: “It is absolutely clear that Brexit paralysis, if it continues for a long time, will be highly damaging to our international standing.”
Talks between the government and Labour are due to continue this week as the two parties attempt to find a compromise solution to the Brexit crisis.
Mr Hunt said the negotiations so far had been “more constructive” than many expected and that people should not “rule out the possibility of getting some agreement across the Commons”.
He added: “This is the total focus of not just Theresa May, but the whole cabinet as well. It is time to put our shoulders into it and really make this happen.”
But he admitted that the discussions could fail and that the Tories might be forced to once again try to win over their Commons partners in the DUP.
He said: “We don’t know if they are going to work and it may be that we need to find a way to rebuild the Conservative-DUP coalition.”