Theresa May is coming under growing pressure to revoke an invitation to Donald Trump for a state visit to the UK following global condemnation of controversial immigration restrictions.
Last night the Foreign Office confirmed that Britons with dual citizenship would be exempted from the president’s executive order, which provoked outrage and was instantly challenged in US courts.
Hundreds of travellers, including refugees, were detained as US airports and removed from flights to America after the US president signed an executive order cancelling visas for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Thousands of people took part in spontaneous protests at airports across the US as the executive order took effect, stranding travellers who were already in the air when it was signed.
An Iranian-born veterinarian working in Glasgow who became stranded in Costa Rica when her transit visa through New York was revoked, returned to Scotland yesterday after supporters on social media raised thousands of pounds to pay for alternative flights home.
Last night a petition calling for the visit later this year to be cancelled because it would “cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen” had gained half a million signatures in a matter of hours.
The SNP, Labour and the Liberal Democrats said her invitation to the US president to come to the UK later this year should be put on hold until the restrictions are lifted.
Nicola Sturgeon said it would be “wrong for it to go ahead while bans on refugees and citizens of some countries are in place”, while Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Trump “should not be welcomed to Britain while he abuses our shared values with his shameful Muslim ban and attacks on refugees’ and women’s rights”.
Tim Farron called Mr Trump’s order “disgraceful”, and said that if the state visit went ahead, “it would be placing the Queen in an impossible position of welcoming a man who is banning British citizens purely on grounds of their faith”.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said the government “should not be rolling out the red carpet for President Trump.”
And Ruth Davidson posted on social media that a state visit “could not possibly occur while a cruel and divisive policy which discriminates against citizens of the host nation is in place”.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said people across the UK would be “repulsed and hurt” and said senior Tories including Ms Davidson should “deeply regret” their earlier praise of Mrs May’s US visit.
The Prime Minister came under attack after she initially repeatedly refused to answer questions from journalists on the ban while on a visit to Turkey. Downing Street later released a statement late on Saturday saying the government “do not agree with this kind of approach”. but added that “immigration policy in the United States is a matter for the government of the United States”.
The controversy has caused particular embarrassment so soon after the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States, where she praised President Trump’s election as the dawn of a “new era of American renewal”.
Under the order, those born in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen are unable to enter the US for at least the next 90 days, even if they hold a visa or work permit, and are no longer citizens of those countries.
Dual nationals with a passport from those countries are also affected, although, like the UK last night, the Canadian government yesterday said its citizens would be exempt. The order also bars all refugees from the US for 120 days and all refugees from Syria indefinitely, provoking an angry response from humanitarian groups.
At John F Kennedy International Airport in New York, two Iraqis granted asylum for working with US troops in their home country were detained, and in Washington, a five year-old Iranian boy was held for five hours by border officials before being reunited with his mother.
Mrs May came under pressure from her own party, with Iraqi-born MP Nadhim Zahawi revealing that he and his wife were barred from visiting their sons at university in the US under the rules.
“For the first time in my life last night I felt discriminated against,” Mr Zahawi told the Andrew Marr Show yesterday. “It’s demeaning, it’s sad.”
Mr Trump defended his action yesterday, posting on twitter: “Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world – a horrible mess!”
The US department of homeland security insisted that “prohibited travel will remain prohibited” despite an emergency ruling by a federal court requiring authorities not to detain those who had clearance to enter the US when the order was signed.
“The department will comply with judicial orders, faithfully enforce our immigration laws, and implement President Trump’s executive orders to ensure that those entering the United States do not pose a threat to our country or the American people,” it said in a statement.