Donald Trump’s travel ban risks becoming a “propaganda opportunity” for Islamic State and may not be effective in combating terrorism, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has told MPs.
In the strongest criticism of the US president’s controversial policy yet from a government minister, Ms Rudd warned it could be exploited by IS militants who would use “any opportunity they can to make difficulties”.
The Home Secretary told MPs the president’s measure did not amount to a “Muslim ban” but people would “draw their own conclusions” about the nations that had been picked.
The seven mainly Muslim countries covered by Mr Trump’s travel ban are Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Questioning the effectiveness of the measure, she told MPs on the home affairs select committee: “The sources of terrorism are not to be found in the sources where the president is necessarily looking for them.”
Amid fears that IS may seek to portray the ban as a sign of Islamophobia in the West, Ms Rudd acknowledged the terror group would “use any opportunity they can to make difficulties, to create the environment they want to radicalise people, to bring them over to their side”.
She added: “So it is a propaganda opportunity for them, potentially.”
Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said the way the measure had been drawn up “does make it look an awful lot like a Muslim ban” and asked Ms Rudd if she was worried about its impact.
The Home Secretary said: “I think the important thing is for this government to state that we disagree with the ban and we have said that it is divisive, it is wrong. I will continue to say that.”
She assured MPs that “this will never be our policy, we have a completely different approach”.
Meanwhile it has been confirmed that MPs will next month debate whether Mr Trump should make a state visit to Britain after a petition calling for the trip to be downgraded gained the support of more than 1.7 million people.
The Westminster Hall debate on 20 February will also consider a rival petition in support of the controversial American leader’s state visit, which has more than 114,000 signatures.
Ms Rudd defended the decision to honour Mr Trump with a state visit.
“It is also honouring the country. The US is our strongest ally,” she said.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna challenged her, saying: “What message do you think it gives this country’s three million Muslims when you invite a known Islamophobe and honour him in the way that you are intending to do?”
The Home Secretary responded: “I think we can hold two things in our head, which is to say to the president of the US ‘We find this policy divisive and wrong’ and still to respect the president of the United States and want to engage with him in the way we would engage with world leaders to try to promote the UK’s interests.”
Downing Street rejected claims the Queen has been put in a difficult position due to the invitation and insisted the state visit would go ahead this year.
Dozens of opposition MPs have signed a motion calling for Mr Trump to be denied the opportunity of addressing both houses of parliament.
The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said: “On the programme for the state visit, that will all need to be worked out in due course, the elements of that, and to look at it all – it’s months away, so there will be a discussion for that.”
Mr Trump fired acting US attorney general Sally Yates yesterday after she ordered Justice Department lawyers to stop defending the president’s refugee ban. He named Dana Boente as her replacement.
House speaker Paul Ryan defended the divisive executive order, arguing that while the roll-out was bumpy, the policy is consistent with Republican principles.
“The president has a responsibility to the security of this country,” Mr Ryan said.
Even though party congressional leadership was frozen out of the drafting of the order, Mr Ryan told rank-and-file Republicans that he backed the decision to stop the US refugee programme and ban all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.
However Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said the online retailer supports a lawsuit filed against the executive order.
Fellow Washington state-based companies Microsoft and Expedia are also supporting the suit, which was filed by the state’s attorney general in a US District Court in Seattle on Monday.
The complaint and motion for an emergency temporary restraining order said the restrictions on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries is damaging Washington state’s economy and hurting its companies. In an internal email to employees at the Seattle-based company, Mr Bezos said: “We’re a nation of immigrants.”