Theresa May did not ask for the hand she has been dealt. She did not campaign for Brexit. She had nothing to do with Donald Trump’s election. Nevertheless she must deal with both – and I am proud of the way she is making the most of the situation she’s in, for the good of our country.
Whether you were for or against Brexit, given that it’s what we’re now doing, it’s surely obvious that it’s better to have a President who’s positive about it than one who’s negative. Whether you were for or (like many Brits) against Trump, now that he’s President, surely it’s better for our PM to get on with him than not.
“But he’s uniquely awful,” some reply, pointing most recently to his executive order on visas as proof. He’s so bad, they think, that he shouldn’t come to the UK on a state visit. Let’s examine that claim.
The list of seven countries to which this order applies was drawn up under President Obama. Admittedly, he didn’t deny their citizens entry to the US (instead, his list was to deny them access to the Visa Waiver Programme), but he did bomb a lot of them.
Here’s one example. With American support, US allies have systematically bombed Yemen. Human Rights Watch’s MENA team points to a single attack, the bombing of a funeral, in which some 140 died and a further 500 were injured. I’m the first to agree that it must be frustrating to have one’s visa temporarily delayed. But which is worse – being bombed (even by someone with the backing of a Nobel Peace Prize winner) or having one’s travel delayed or even denied?
Now our Trump-hating friend, seeking to continue to find reasons to resent the new President, says, “Isn’t that an extreme point? What about migration, an issue that affects many more people than bombing?” On that broader test, in his eight years in office, President Obama deported more immigrants than any other President in history. But the Deporter in Chief was, rightly, welcomed here without a murmur about that on his four state visits.
This list of seven countries itself isn’t Islamophobic. There are many more countries in the world with larger Muslim populations than these seven nations, and it is difficult to deny that objective connections with terrorism led to the Obama administration drawing the list up. It’s not unreasonable to want more rigorous tests of individuals coming from certain nations, and to delay their entry until those tests are in place.
Remember that the Trump campaign pledge was to halt entry to the US for “all Muslims”. They won the election and could have argued that they had a mandate for such a policy. This really would have been discriminatory – and it hasn’t happened. Shouldn’t the left be welcoming the significantly more measured steps they’ve actually taken in office? Equally, shouldn’t people be parading against the 17 countries that actually do practice religious prejudice in their migration policies, by denying entry to Israelis and even those who’ve been to Israel?
We have issued an invitation to Trump. We should honour it. There’s no real reason to do otherwise. To fail to do so would – there’s no more accurate term for it – be rude. A state visit is one of the great soft power tools in the British arsenal; it’s the role of the British PM to use these tools to get closer to foreign heads of government, our most important ally the US foremost among them, and any PM would do so.
Lastly I note that there is an anti-Trump petition. Our government will be right (even if the 1m-plus “signatures” are all genuine) to ignore it, just as many other seven-figure signature petitions on issues of substance like the return of Jeremy Clarkson to Top Gear were ignored.
The Trump policy has been poorly introduced. That it shouldn’t apply to residents of the US should have been decided at the beginning. That significant exemptions will apply (most especially to those who’ve assisted the US military in their countries but also, according to the Foreign Office, to many dual nationals) should not have been left in doubt. The hash of an introduction will not be the last mistake the new administration makes.
But as the above hopefully shows, it’s hardly a basis for snubbing the leader of the free world.