30 Jan 2017

Theresa May told a US refugee ban was coming

Team Trump told Theresa May when she was in the White House that they were about to ban refugees from coming to the US, using an Executive Order. The US administration team don’t appear to have gone into detail about what exactly they planned for dual nationals. It’s not clear whether they listed Muslim countries from which visitors would be banned.

What is clear is that there was enough of a sniff of a major switch in US policy flagged up in the White House to suggest you really ought to have an opinion on it.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 27: U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) participate in a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House January 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. Prime Minister May is on a visit to the White House and had a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office with President Trump. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

But many hours later in Ankara, Mrs May was still reluctant to share her views on President Trump’s ban on visitors from seven Muslim countries, only answering the question after three attempts from journalists and even then failing to take a view on it.

After a conference call with the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary on Sunday morning, a line was handed down to reporters criticising the US policy. Meanwhile, Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson were put to work trying to clarify and amend the treatment of British passport holders following a whole series of complaints of discrimination from Olympic athletes to Tory MPs.

The line on whether UK holders of dual nationality were able to enter the US zig-zagged around all day. The government said late morning that it was all cleared up and they were fine to enter the US. The advice on the US Embassy website seemed to contradict that as it did on other US Embassies in EU countries. They simply hadn’t caught up, was the explanation.

The government said the UK was not getting a special deal because of the special relationship: if other EU countries rang up they’d discover they were entitled to the same arrangements.

By 4.30pm, when Boris Johnson stood up in the Commons, that line had changed too: the UK had a special carve out. Dual nationality, even if your other nationality is one of the seven listed countries, will get you access to the US. The Foreign Secretary attacked the US policy as divisive and unhelpful but also attacked Labour for “demonising” President Trump. Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry mocked the Prime Minister for the delay in coming to any view on what she said was a flagrant breach of human rights.

US President Donald Trump walks from Marine One to the White House on January 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In parallel to these developments, all day the pressure to disinvite President Trump from the state visit planned for this summer has been gathering.

It meant that Theresa May and Enda Kenny, Ireland’s Prime Minister, had an ice-breaker to kick off talks this afternoon at Dublin Castle. Both now have popular anti-Trump petitions gaining strength at home – in the Taoiseach’s case to cancel a St Patrick’s Day trip to Washington, in the PM’s to stop the State Visit.

The Queen loathes being in any proximity to an issue that divides her realm. The mapping of petition signers suggests support for a Trump ban is strongest in pro-Remain areas, but those might be the sort of areas that are more prone to sign petitions.

Her eldest son and heir, Prince Charles, has seen himself in a lot of newspaper stories today with the suggestion that Donald Trump doesn’t want an earful from the Prince of Wales on climate change if they end up meeting.

The two have met at least once before, in 2005 in New York. Donald Trump back then said what a great guy the Prince of Wales was.

Tweets by @garygibbonc4