The UK Home Office has rejected a request by PML-N supremo and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for an extension in his visa, the PML-N confirmed on Thursday.
"The UK Home Office has excused itself from further extending Muhammad Nawaz Sharif's visa," PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said in a statement.
She said the Home Office had stated that Nawaz could file an appeal against this decision in the immigration tribunal.
"Nawaz Sharif's lawyers have filed the appeal in the British immigration tribunal," Aurangzeb added.
She said the Home Office's order "would not be effective" until a decision on the appeal, and that "Nawaz Sharif can reside in the UK legally until the appeal is decided."
Nawaz has been living in London since November 2019 after he was allowed to leave the country for medical treatment.
In December last year, Nawaz was declared a proclaimed offender in two cases — Avenfield properties and Al-Azizia — by the Islamabad High Court after he failed to appear before the court. The government had subsequently decided to cancel his passport.
Sources told Dawn.com that Nawaz has been living in Britain on a valid visa. It is not clear when that visa expires but sources said it has a long validity.
However, a non-UK citizen cannot remain in the UK for more than six months at a time. Nawaz had been applying for — and receiving — extensions in his stay till now, when his latest application for extension filed through a lawyer was denied, according to the sources.
If the PML-N supremo's appeal is turned down by the immigration tribunal, he has the option of filing an appeal in court.
'Nawaz has a strong case'
PML-N leader and Nawaz's spokesperson Mohammad Zubair said the party would “exhaust” all legal options to get an extension in Nawaz's UK visa. He said the appeals process could take up to a year and a half due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking on Geo News programme 'Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Saath', Zubair insisted that Nawaz's case was “very strong” and it was likely that he would be granted an extension. He ruled out the possibility of the former premier approaching the Pakistan High Commission to reclaim his passport.
“Since Mian Nawaz Sharif has been living in the UK, he has to fulfil the formalities of the country … the appeal that he has filed had in consideration all the aspects including political ones,” he added.
Regarding the health of the former prime minister, the PML-N leader said Nawaz was not holding any rallies or public meetings, and that “his political activities are just confined to statements.”
He insisted there would be no negative political implications of the decision to ensure Nawaz got the visa extension, adding that all party leaders had requested that the PML-N supremo should stay in London. “We can’t risk his life,” he said.
Zubair said taking political revenge was not unusual in Pakistan.
“Nawaz Sharif has a political stature and he is not going anywhere. He dominates the political scenario in Pakistan. Most of the by-elections that PML-N won was because of the name of Nawaz Sharif, hence calling him politically irrelevant makes no sense,” he stressed.
Immigration laws expert Mohammad Amjad said Nawaz had come to the UK on a visit visa, for which he had been receiving extensions. He said there were certain provisions in UK immigration rules under which extensions were approved. "The extensions Nawaz was getting were outside the immigration rules and on the directions of the secretary of state," he added.
He noted that Nawaz had filed his application for extension on medical grounds, which was outside the scope of the rules and thus refused.
Nawaz "has the right to appeal the rejection and he can legally stay here until his appeal rights stay intact. And if he fails to secure a decision, then the home secretary can remove him from the country." Amjad said.
'Come to Pakistan and face cases'
Reacting to today's development, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry in a video message said: "There is information that the UK government has denied Nawaz Sharif's request for extension in his medical visa. This is welcome news ... it was clear that Nawaz Sharif is not unwell and he lied to secure a UK visa, against which he was residing in the country."
The minister said the Pakistani people and government had urged the British government to "not give refuge to such persons who are involved in billions of rupees worth of corruption".
He added that the PML-N supremo now had two options — he could either go to the Pakistan high commission and get temporary travel papers to come to Pakistan and fight his legal case, or he could challenge the UK government's decision.
"If he does challenge, he has no grounds ... because he is not unwell," Chaudhry said. "He is roaming around in the UK, going to restaurants in front of you; so it is apparent that he is not ill ... he will lie once again [in the appeal] to the British courts and he may get penalised by the British courts as well."
He added: "In my opinion, Nawaz Sharif should go to the Pakistani embassy and get his temporary travel papers and come to Pakistan to face his cases."
Chaudhry stressed that Prime Minister Imran Khan or the PTI had "no personal enmity" against Nawaz. "Our only issue is that he has stolen billions from Pakistan and escaped ... that money should be returned to Pakistan .... you come back, return the money and stay at your home.. otherwise [you will] go to jail," he said.
In December last year, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Mirza Shahzad Akbar had told a press conference that Pakistan had written a letter to the UK for the cancellation of Nawaz Sharif's visa, which was issued for medical treatment after taking an undertaking. The six-month visa had not been extended by the UK, he had said at the time, adding that negotiations were continuing with UK for the deportation of Nawaz.
A highly placed source in the UK had told Dawn last year that a top Pakistani official met his British counterpart in October to convey that Nawaz is “no longer a soft issue” between the UK and Pakistan and failure to deport him could result in strained ties between the countries.
Prime Minister Imran in October said he would contact British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, if needed, to discuss his deportation and his adviser Akbar wrote a letter to British Home Secretary Priti Patel on October 5 urging her to deport the former premier who he said was “responsible for pillaging the state”.
In Nawaz’s case, the government of Pakistan was hoping to persuade UK authorities to bring about a “forced removal”, sometimes called “administrative removal” — a scenario in which the Home Office enforces an individual’s removal from the UK if they don’t have leave to remain i.e. if their application has been declined or if their leave to remain has expired, Dawn reported.
While the Nawaz case was exceptional in that it involved a major political personality, it came to the UK Home Office at a time when it was under fire at home for being a haven for foreign nationals accused of corruption.
Journalists and rights groups in the last few years have criticised the policies of the British government, which they say have made the UK “a safe haven for corrupt wealth”. Transparency International had called for the British government to launch an investigation into Nawaz’s London properties in 2018 when he was convicted in the Avenfield case and subsequently sentenced to 10 years.
With additional reporting by Atika Rehman in London.