UK: Trump visit still on amid outcry over travel ban

Jill Lawless
Associated Press

London — A state visit to Britain by President Donald Trump later this year will go ahead, the prime minister’s office said Monday, despite increasing calls for it to be canceled over his temporary ban on residents of seven majority-Muslim countries entering the U.S.

Furor over the travel ban has tarnished what British officials had considered a highly successful trip to Washington by Prime Minister Theresa May. She met Trump at the White House on Friday and announced that he had been invited to come to Britain later this year as the guest of Queen Elizabeth II.

May’s Downing St. office said Monday that “an invitation has been extended and accepted,” and the visit is still on.

No date has been announced for the state visit, which involves lavish pomp and ceremony, generally with a stay at Buckingham Palace.

The visit was hailed by government officials as a sign of the close trans-Atlantic relationship, which was also reflected in May’s invitation to meet Trump just a week after his inauguration.

But criticism of May’s wooing of Trump erupted when — only hours after the prime minister had left the White House — the president signed an executive order suspending all travel to the U.S. of citizens of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Libya for 90 days. The order also bars all refugees entering the country for 120 days.

Britain’s three biggest opposition parties have all called for Trump’s state visit to be canceled and an online petition opposing the trip has more than 1.3 million signatures. Protests against the travel ban are planned Monday in London and other British cities.

Any petition with more than 100,000 signatures must be considered for a debate in Parliament, though not a binding vote.

Last year, Parliament debated whether to ban Trump, then a presidential candidate, from visiting Britain after a similar online petition.

Trump’s travel ban sparked protests at airports across the U.S., and drew condemnation and concern from around the world.

There was widespread confusion about whether the ban applied to dual nationals. Somali-born British Olympic champion runner Mo Farah said he feared it would prevent him returning to the U.S., where he lives.

Late Sunday, Britain’s Foreign Office said U.S. authorities had clarified that the ban didn’t apply to British citizens who are also nationals of one of the seven countries. Canada’s foreign minister said he had been told the same about Canadian dual nationals.

However, the website of the U.S. Embassy in London on Monday advised nationals of the seven countries — “including dual nationals” — not to book visa appointments, saying their applications would not be processed.

The advice was removed from the site after several hours. The U.S. Embassy didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jacob Parakilas, assistant head of the U.S. and the Americas program at the Chatham House think tank, said that “for the moment there doesn’t seem to be a single clear interpretation of the order, and it’s not entirely clear what the final result of the negotiations will be.”

“So I think confusion is going to reign for some time,” he said.

The apparent British exemption didn’t end the storm of opposition, with prominent members of May’s Conservative Party joining in calls for Trump’s visit to be scrapped.

Sayeeda Warsi, a former government minister and Conservative member of the House of Lords, said that it was “sending out a wrong signal” to invite Trump, a leaders whose values “are not the same as British values.”

Conservative lawmaker Sarah Wollaston said that Trump shouldn’t be invited to address both houses of Parliament, an honor given to many visiting foreign leaders.

She said that “those who wish to fawn over him” should do so elsewhere.

But former Conservative Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind said Britain had welcomed other leaders on state visits despite human rights concerns, including Chinese President Xi Jinping.

He told the BBC that Trump, “whatever we think of him … is well-disposed to the United Kingdom, and it would be pretty silly, from everybody’s point of view, simply to throw away that opportunity to develop that relationship.”