So, we are encouraged to believe that Theresa May had a successful visit to the USA to see the 45th President within days of his inauguration. Lots of kudos as she was the first senior politician to visit the new president, she told it like it was, he agreed to support NATO and the ‘special relationship’ goes from strength to strength.
Yet within hours of her departure Trump shakes the world by signing a Presidential order imposing a travel ban to the USA affecting millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa, and in effect UK nationals with dual passports. May seems caught off guard, so we presume he didn’t mention it whist they were walking hand in hand. So much for being ‘special’.
Disappointingly, May’s response was to vacillate whilst others, thankfully, were swifter to condemn. Aid agencies internationally condemned the ban. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit challenging the deportation of visitors under the order and was successful, with Judge Ann Donnelly ordering an emergency stay. Democrat senators such as Elizabeth Warren found common cause with republicans such as Senator John Lewis and joined mass protests at US airports.
Closer to home Sir Mo Farah found common cause with Tory MP Nadim Zahawi in condemning a move that would directly impact on their families. Jeremy Corbyn MP called for Trump’s proposed state visit to be postponed until the order was overturned.
A petition to the UK Government to prevent Trump from making a state visit (interestingly, “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen”) has over one and quarter million signatures at the time of writing. A Global Open Letter addressed to Trump which rejects his ‘fear, hate mongering and bigotry’ is close to 4m signatories.
So, 24 hours after the announcement, a clarification from the White House means that those holding UK dual passports will be fine to travel (mostly). But, the core of this proposal remains, and for me it is nothing other than an act of direct discrimination.
The so called ‘extreme vetting’ in the order is in fact a ban on travel to the US for people in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. These countries are predominantly Muslim. We have heard Trump’s views about ‘Muslims’ and this move goes part of the way to delivering the ban on all Muslims entering the US that Trump called for during his election campaign.
Of course, we all want an end to terrorist violence; but punishing all Muslims because of a small number who profess the Muslim faith and commit outrages, is an example of the intolerance we are supposedly fighting against.
What purpose can it serve to restrict the travel of law-abiding citizens. I saw a TV interview with a young man living and working in America who was Iraqi by birth. He had been working outside the US with his company but fearing he would get caught up in the ban they brought him back to the US. He was desperate and hugely conflicted. He wanted to stay in the US but felt now that he could not stay in a country that did not want him.
Maybe that’s what Trump wants but his America will be the poorer for it.
Jennette Arnold OBE AM
Labour London Assembly Member for GLA North East Constituency.