The home secretary, Theresa May, has ordered “a full investigation” after a leading Palestinian activist in Israel entered Britain despite a travel ban.
Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was detained at 11pm on Tuesday and taken to Paddington Green police station in west London. May has said the UK Border Agency is taking steps to deport him.
“We do not normally comment on individual cases but in this case I think it is important to do so. I can confirm he was excluded and that he managed to enter the UK. He has now been detained and the UK Border Agency is making arrangements to remove him. A full investigation is now taking place into how he was able to enter.”
Salah’s solicitor, Farooq Bajwa, said Salah had ”no knowledge” of any such ban and had made no attempt to conceal his identity when he entered Britain on Saturday. He had addressed a meeting in Leicester on Tuesday night and been due to attend a Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening attended by Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Burden.
It is understood that the Home Office accepts Salah was open about his identity when he arrived. The official investigation is believed to be about how the exclusion order could be made but not served on Salah before his arrival and how UKBA officials waved him through once he landed.
The decision to arrest Salah followed a direct appeal in the Commons on Monday by the Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer, to Theresa May demanding Salah be banned from Britain because of his “history of virulent anti-semitism”.
May refused to comment on whether or not Salah had been banned but said individuals whose presence in Britain was “not conducive to the public good” would be excluded. She said the government “made no apologies for refusing access to the UK if we believe that they might seek to undermine our society”.
The Home Office has refused to give the precise grounds for Salah’s exclusion.
Tayab Ali, who is acting for Salah, said: “The detention last night was pursuant to section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971 which was that the secretary of state felt that deportation of my client was conducive to the public good.
“It is our view that the basis for that deportation order is without merit and interferes with our client’s article 10 right to freedom of expression. We will be strongly challenging the deportation order in the British courts.”
Sarah Colborne, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in London, said she was appalled by the decision to detain Salah. “This is a legitimate organisation which Israel has never moved to ban. Raed Salah regularly speaks at venues across Israel where he has considerable support amongst the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population.”
She said that he had been elected mayor of his hometown, Um al-Fahm, three times and had never been convicted of anti-semitism in Israel.
Colborne said Salah had asked his legal team to take action against those in Britain who had made allegations of anti-semitism against him before his arrival.
“The attempt to remove Sheikh Raed Salah from this country while he is taking legal action against those who have been defaming him is an obstruction of the course of justice,” she said.
Colborne said the Home Office, when contacted by Salah’s legal team, refused to confirm or deny the ban.