President Donald Trump last week signed an executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from travelling to the US and suspending America’s refugee programme. This has caused chaos in the immigration system and at airports both in the US and abroad, says Liam Stack in The New York Times. The order has been condemned by the former president, Barack Obama, at least 100 American diplomats and the acting attorney general, Sally Yates. She said it was unlawful and was promptly fired. After initially refusing to condemn the ban, Theresa May issued a statement saying she does not agree with the policy and will not be adopting a similar approach.
Trump’s stated aim is to prevent terrorist attacks of the kind carried out by asylum seekers or people posing as refugees in Europe. Yet post-9/11 strikes on US soil have been “perpetrated overwhelmingly by people who’ve been radicalised in America”, says The New York Times. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that Trump had handed Isis a “propaganda opportunity”, and she’s right, says David Gardner in the Financial Times. Isis can now “brandish this foolish and immoral decree as proof that the Crusader west is waging a war of civilisations against Islam”.
Moreover, by refusing to take in Syrian Christians fleeing persecution, he is pinning a target on their backs. The whole thing smacks of poor planning and “cack-handed incompetence”, says The Times. There is “little sign” that Trump or his advisers had considered the repercussions. Trump is showing the political class that “he is not bound by convention or afraid of making enemies”, but “his mandate is for change, not revolution”. He needs to “slow down… and plan for the long-game”.
Quite, says Angela Epstein in The Daily Telegraph. Until Trump, “an unabashed, unreconstructed Neanderthal”, adopts a more circumspect approach, he will continue to leave “chaos, confusion, protest and outrage” in his wake. The policy also sparked protests across the UK. A petition to ban a state visit by Donald Trump later this year on the grounds that it would cause embarrassment to the Queen had collected just under two million signatures by the middle of this week. Parliament is due to debate the issue on 20 February.
But rescinding Theresa May’s recent invitation would undermine our credibility and be self-defeating, according to former foreign secretary William Hague in The Daily Telegraph. None of us would want to embarrass the Queen, but a monarch who has hosted “tyrants such as Presidents Mobutu of Zaire and Ceausescu of Romania is going to take a brash billionaire from New York effortlessly in her stride”.
State visits represent “much more than an invitation to an individual”. They are about long-term friendship between nations and business, scientific, academic and diplomatic ties, adds Hague. Trump’s order was “arbitrary and inhumane” and many of us dislike him, but we can still believe in the importance of our trans-Atlantic relationship.
What did May’s visit to the White House achieve?
Last week, a “much-needed political win” was on the cards for Theresa May, says Brian Klaas in Fortune. After months of uncertainty over Brexit, Donald Trump emerged as a “man willing to fast-track a quick and easy trade deal” with Britain, heartening news for a country about to turn its back on the EU, with which it conducts 50% of its trade. But any “shining” headlines were rapidly overshadowed by Trump’s immigration ban. May now finds herself in an “impossible situation”.
If she opposes Trump explicitly, she risks upsetting a man “known to take personal offence easily”. In any case, adds Sebastian Payne in the Financial Times, she is “hardly well placed to criticise an American president determined to regain control of national borders”, given that this is “the centrepiece of her own Brexit strategy”.
It’s not even as if a trade deal could happen fast, says Klaas. The UK cannot formally negotiate or enter a trade deal as a member of the EU. Moreover, the “hastily” assembled team at the new UK Department for International Trade will be no match for the “legions” of experienced negotiators in the US, and there are “major questions” that need to be answered, such as whether British farmers will have to compete with heavily subsidised American farmers. It has already been made “crystal clear” that the UK would have to accept US imports that it has previously rejected, such as chlorine-washed chicken, unlabelled GM foods and beef from cattle imported with growth hormones, says Joanna Blythman in The Guardian.
The upshot, says The Observer, is that due to Trump’s “nationalistic ‘America first’ approach and his predatory business instincts, any future bilateral trade treaty can be expected to be damaging to British interests”. Trump isn’t interested in free trade – “he wants a free ride”. It was also depressing to note that Trump “was ready to ignore [May’s]concerns about Russia”. Even as the prime minister was insisting on a tough stance against the Kremlin, the White House was circulating a memo on lifting sanctions.
As far as Nato is concerned, May “got nothing” substantial from Trump, adds Will Hutton in The Observer. He simply “affirmed support for it. Trump did not promise to uphold the World Trade Organisation or even the United Nations either. Chinese president Xi Jinping has positioned China as the new defender of globalisation, but how will a “weakened Britain, desperate for any trade crumb, fare in China’s reordering of the global system”? Our clear-sighted, “empire-building ancestors” would have made “common cause” with Europeans to “keep the world open on terms that work for us”.
Speaking of Europeans, Trump’s presidency is “changing the already severe risks from Brexit into something potentially disastrous for Britain”, says The Guardian. If there is a perception that May’s Britain is “happy to work to undermine and even destroy the EU in alliance with Trump”, that would mean a collapse of relations with our neighbours.