Theresa May says UK does not agree with Trump refugee ban
Prime minister comes under fire for initially declining to criticise US immigration policy
Britain’s prime minister Theresa May speaks during a joint press conference with US president Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House on January 27th. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
British prime minister Theresa May said Britain does not agree with US president Donald Trump’s curbs on immigration after facing criticism from within her own party for not condemning his executive order when first questioned.
On a visit to Turkey on Saturday, she was asked three times to comment on Mr Trump’s move to put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barring travellers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries, which he said would protect Americans from violent Islamists.
Ms May - who had flown to Turkey from the United States where she was the first foreign leader to meet the new US president - replied that Washington was responsible for its policy on refugees.
But after the prime minister flew back to a political storm in London late on Saturday, coming under fire from within her own party, her spokesman said Britain did not agree with Mr Trump’s ban.
“Immigration policy in the United States is a matter for the government of the United States, just the same as immigration policy for this country should be set by our government,” he said.
“But we do not agree with this kind of approach and it is not one we will be taking. We are studying this new executive order to see what it means and what the legal effects are, and in particular what the consequences are for UK nationals.”
Government minister David Gauke defended May’s initial refusal to voice any criticise, saying she was not a “shoot from the hip” politician and wanted to take a considered view.
“The important thing is we are saying that we disagree with it and we think it’s wrong,” he told BBC TV on Sunday.
Britain would make representations to the United States on behalf of any British nationals affected by the policy, he said.
Mr Trump’s executive order plunged America’s immigration system into chaos, with legal US residents being turned away at airports, and drew criticism from Western allies including France and Germany.
The ban affects travellers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. According to state department guidance, travellers with dual nationality will also be affected.
Ms May had been enjoying a positive response at home for revitalising the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States, which could be a vital trading partner after Brexit.
But her response while in Ankara for talks with Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan triggered criticism from her party.
“Trump really is a sickening piece of work,” tweeted MP Sarah Wollaston, a member of the Conservative Party. She said Mr Trump should be snubbed by parliament when he comes to Britain for a planned state visit this year.
“I don’t care how special the relationship is, some lines just shouldn’t be crossed,” Conservative MP Heidi Allen tweeted. “Strong leadership means not being afraid to tell someone powerful when they’re wrong. It’s an ethos this country is proud of.”
Another Conservative, Nadhim Zahawi, said he would be banned from the United States as a British citizen of Iraqi origin. “A sad sad day to feel like a second class citizen,” he tweeted. “Sad day for the USA.”
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said it should sadden Britain that Ms May chose not to stand up to Mr Trump.
He reiterated his total opposition to the ban, and he said Mr Trump’s planned state visit should be put on hold.
“We need to find out exactly what his intentions are in the long run and how much the US parliamentary system is going to protect fundamentals of rights and freedom,” he told ITV.