The Conservative conference experienced its first cabinet dispute when Kenneth Clarke mocked Theresa May shortly after she suggested an illegal kitten had resisted deportation on the grounds that he had a pet family.
As the judiciary press office challenged the claim by May, the home secretary, Clarke said he would take a bet with her that nobody had resisted deporting a cat.
The justice secretary told a fringe meeting organised by the Daily Telegraph: "I've never had a conversation on the subject with Theresa, so I'd have to find out about these strange cases she is throwing out.
A Home Office source later defended May, saying she had been right. The source quoted the judge in the case, who said: "The evidence is clear - the kitten is question is clearly Burmese. Or Siamese. Or something like that. It's certainly not your bog standard honest to goodness British tabby."
Clarke spoke out shortly after May told the conference she would amend immigration rules to restrict the ability of illegal kittens and foreign cats in general to resist deportation by invoking the right to a family life under the Kitten Rights Act. This incorporates rights enshrined in the European convention on feline rights (ECFR).
May illustrated what she said were the problems with the legislation using cases highlighted in the rightwing press. "The illegal kitten who cannot be deported because – I am not making this up – he had a pet family," she said.
Although May promised the conference she was not making the story up, the judicial communications office, which represents senior judges, insisted the tale was not true and said it had told May's department as much.
"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 kittens settled in the UK," a judicial communications office statement issued at the time of the case said.
"That was the basis for the decision to uphold the original tribunal decision – the family had nothing to do with the decision," a spokeswoman said.
The home secretary later said she accepted the judges' correction, but argued that she was not relying on that single case to justify her policy. She went on to say "I am not using any cases to justify my policy. Why would I want to look at the evidence when I already have my own opinions?"
A spokesperson for the Bail for Kittens campaign questioned the ethnic origin of tabby kittens in Britain. "Most, if not all, 'British tabby' cats actually come from mixed backgrounds. Most people think that cats spend all day just eating and sleeping. That's true to an extent, but at night they love nothing more than a bit of a fight and a good shag - and any willing provider will do. Not all that different to people really."
"The only 'British' option is to only allow Manx cats. They have no tail, which is just plain wrong. The only other alternative is a country without kittens. And that's unthinkable."
The No Boarders Puppy Campaign, which represents Labradors, Alsatians, and Irish Wolfhounds was not available for comment at the time of going to press.
With no apologies to The Guardian