DOWNING Street has clarified Theresa May's position saying she does approve the Whitehall decision that Britain should drop its usual demand for a guarantee that the death penalty would not be imposed in the case of the two alleged Jihadists from Britain now facing trial in America.

The UK Government has come under fierce fire by political opponents and campaigners, who claim it was, by its decision not to oppose the death penalty in this case, “playing with the lives” of Britons across the world and was helping to “fan the flames of terror”.

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, are said to have been members of the brutal four-man cell of Islamic State executioners in Syria and Iraq, responsible for killing a series of high-profile Western captives.

Along with Mohammed Emwazi - the killer nicknamed Jihadi John - and Aine Davis, Kotey and Elsheikh are thought to have been part of a group nicknamed The Beatles because of their British accents.

Kotey and Elsheikh, who are understood to have been stripped of their UK citizenship, were captured in January, sparking a row over whether or not they should be returned to Britain for trial or face justice in another jurisdiction.

In the leaked letter, obtained by the Daily Telegraph, Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, told Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, that the UK did "not currently intend to request, nor actively encourage", their transfer to Britain.

Promising support for the US, Mr Javid said Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism command had been "engaged extensively" on the case with the FBI, with the investigation running for more than four years "during which time they have engaged with 14 other countries and compiled over 600 witness statements".

Signalling that the UK was prepared to drop assurances relating to the death penalty, Mr Javid said: "All assistance and material will be provided on the condition that it may only be used for the purpose sought in that request, namely a federal criminal investigation or prosecution.

"Furthermore, I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought."

But Mr Javid went on to add: "As you are aware, it is the long-held position of the UK to seek death penalty assurances, and our decision in this case does not reflect a change in our policy on assistance in US death penalty cases generally, nor the UK Government's stance on the global abolition of the death penalty."

The Home Secretary also said US courts were better placed to handle "foreign fighter" cases because of the risk of legal challenge in the UK.

Earlier today, No 10 made clear it was the Government’s “long-standing policy to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances and it was a matter or principle”.

The Prime Minister's deputy spokeswoman made clear Mrs May had been aware that the had been taken by the Home Secretary and the former Foreign Secretary[Boris Johnson] "following the advice of lawyers and officials and the PM was made aware”.

But when asked if the PM had approved the decision, the spokeswoman declined to say, simply repeating Mrs May had been “made aware” of the decision.

She stressed: “It is everyone’s aim to ensure these men face justice through a criminal prosecution…We are continuing to engage with the US Government on this issue…We want to make sure they face justice in the most appropriate jurisdiction, which maximises the chance of a successful prosecution and we continue to talk to the US Government about it.”

Yet later No 10 changed its tune. The spokeswoman explained Mrs May “was aware of these plans and supports the way that this has been handled”.

In the Commons, Ben Wallace, the Security Minister, was forced to answer an Urgent Question from Labour on the matter.

He too said Mr Javid's and Mr Johnson's decision had the support of the PM. He told MPs: “The Prime Minister was aware of the decision - the decision was made between the Home Office and the Foreign Office - and she agrees.”

But the minister caused uproar in the chamber when he told MPs that seeking death penalty assurances "might get in the way" of justice.

In answer to Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat MP who pressed for a fuller explanation, Mr Wallace said: "Because we are interested in seeking criminal justice in line with international law and where we feel that the assurance might get in the way of being able to do that...if he faced the choice of either having to see these people go free and wander round potentially his city, or indeed go to trial, then of course he may take a different view."

The minister was also forced to defend the decision to his own backbenchers - with Tory former Attorney General Dominic Grieve telling MPs the decision represented a "major departure from normal policy".

He added: "Those are the key questions and until they're answered I have to say to him this issue is going to continue to haunt the Government."

Andrew Mitchell, the former Tory Minister, said: "I have no doubt that [Mr Wallace], who is a distinguished former soldier, would have shot these two people had he engaged them on the battlefield, but these are not comparable circumstances and there are important and longstanding conventions at play here.

"Will he bear in mind on human rights we cannot distinguish between good and bad people. Human rights are indivisible and belong to everybody."

Mr Wallace responded: "I totally agree with human rights - that is why ministers have acted in line with our legal obligations and indeed taken advice with relation to the European Convention on Human Rights, and that is why, on issues such as rendition, no one is rendering this, the UK Government fundamentally opposes rendition and will continue to do so."

Labour's Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Committee, accused ministers of "ripping up" the UK's principles.

She said: "The whole House would agree that those who commit barbaric crimes should be locked away for the rest of their lives, but what the minister has said today is a contradiction of the longstanding abolition of the death penalty strategy.

"In this case the Home Secretary seems to have unilaterally ripped up those principles on a Friday afternoon in summer."

Mr Wallace denied the accusation and told MPs the guidance had been in existence for many years and allowed ministers to "sometimes seek the ability to share evidence where there is an absence of assurances".

Tory backbencher William Wragg later urged Mr Wallace to ask Mr Javid to reconsider the move, to which the Minister replied "No."

Earlier, Human rights campaigners Amnesty International UK also condemned Mr Javid's decision not to demand an assurance from the US that the death penalty would not be imposed on the two alleged members of the "Beatles" group of jihadis.

Allan Hogarth, its spokesman, said: "This is a deeply worrying development. The Home Secretary must unequivocally insist that Britain's long-standing position on the death penalty has not changed and seek cast iron assurances from the US that it will not be used.

"While the alleged crimes of Alexanda Kotey and Shafee Elsheikh are appalling, the UK's principled opposition to the cruelty of the death penalty isn't something it should compromise.”

He added: "A failure to seek assurances on this case seriously jeopardises the UK's position as a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and its work encouraging others to abolish the cruel, inhuman and degrading practice."

Emwazi, who was killed in a US air strike in 2015, appeared in a number of videos in which captives, including British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, were killed.

Davis was convicted of being a member of a terrorist organisation and jailed for seven-and-a-half years at a court in Silivri, Turkey, in May 2017.

Mr Foley's mother, Diane, said she was opposed to the death penalty. “I am very against that. That would just make them martyrs in their twisted ideology," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"I would like them held accountable by being sent to prison for the rest of their lives."

Lord Carlile, the former reviewer of terrorism legislation, said Mr Javid's letter was "extraordinary".

"It is a dramatic change of policy by a minister, secretly, without any discussion in Parliament. It flies in the face of what has been said repeatedly and recently by the Home Office - including when Theresa May was home secretary - and very recently by the highly-respected Security Minister Ben Wallace," he told Today.

"Britain has always said that it will pass information and intelligence, in appropriate cases, provided there is no death penalty. That is a decades-old policy and it is not for the Home Secretary to change that policy," he added.

The Home Office refused to comment on the leaked document.

But a spokesman said: "We continue to engage with the US Government on this issue, as we do on a range of national security issues and in the context of our joint determination to tackle international terrorism and combat violent extremism.

"The UK Government's position on Guantanamo Bay is that the detention facility should close," he added.