Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the request made by my friend, Edward Miliband, and I to discuss this critical issue. I thank hon. Members of all parties in this House, and people beyond, for their private and public messages of support during the past 72 hours of anguish for my family.
In February last year, my wife and I had our visa waivers revoked in the wake of heightened security measures undertaken by President Obama’s Administration because of our status as Iraqi-born individuals, although we are both British citizens. The precaution seemed fair at the time. We were required to present ourselves for interview at the US embassy in order to guarantee the future security of our travel to America. That was understandable, but none the less uncomfortable. It was not, though, nearly as uncomfortable as this weekend has been for my family and me.
I learned that ability to travel to the United States—a country that I revere so much for its values, for which I have such great affinity, affection and admiration, and to which I have sent both my sons to university—was to be denied to me. I learned that this great nation had put in place measures that would prevent my family and me from travelling, studying and feeling welcome there. I was concerned about the next time I would see my boys, given our reluctance to let them fly home in case they were prevented from returning to university. My wife and I despaired at the thought that, had one of our sons again been taken as seriously ill as he was last year while at university, we would not be able to go to him when he needed us most. Similar sentiments have been felt by many families in the UK and around the world over the weekend.
I fully recognise that I am speaking from a position of great privilege: I have been very lucky as a businessman, and I am hugely privileged to represent Stratford-on-Avon and to have a strong platform from which to state my views. But we need to remember that many people do not have this platform or this voice, many of whom, through no fault of their own, will be seriously affected by the policy and will still be unsure how it affects them or their families. I praise our Prime Minister for the manner in which she spoke up for those people in the United Kingdom. She rapidly instructed our Foreign and Home Secretaries to make representations to their US counterparts. I am relieved that their endeavours have had some success, at least in the British case, but sadly and regretfully, the order remains in force.
Every country is undeniably entitled to set its own immigration policy, control its own borders and do what it thinks is in the best interests of its citizens’ safety. On those issues alone, no nation should interfere, but the UK has an obligation to speak out and to be a critical friend to the United States of America because of the ramifications of the order for the internal stability and security of our country and the rest of the world. The order undermines what our Prime Minister said so eloquently in her speech to Republicans of both Houses of Congress last week in Philadelphia about the need not only to defeat Daesh on the battlefield, but to defeat its ideology and the ideology of those who support it.
I know that I will have vast amounts of support from hon. Members across the House when I say that the Executive order is not only wholly counterproductive in combating terrorism and the narrative of Daesh, but will worsen the situation, playing into the hands of those who would see more terrorist atrocities, not less. Those sympathetic to Daesh will link the order to abhorrent recent events—most notably, the burning of a mosque in Texas and yesterday’s tragic shootings at another mosque in Quebec, Canada. They will link it to rhetoric surrounding the so-called Muslim ban, and to the President’s comments revealed by the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, to which the right hon. Member for Doncaster North referred. On Fox News on Saturday night, Rudy Giuliani confirmed that the then presidential candidate approached him and, after announcing his intention to impose a total shutdown on all Muslims entering the USA, instructed him to
“Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.”
Over the weekend, pro-Islamic State social media accounts have already begun to hail the order and the President’s comments as clear evidence that the USA is seeking to destroy Islam. They have even called it the “blessed ban”. Articles in Daesh’s English-language publication Dabiq have consistently said that the intention behind Daesh’s attacks on the west has been to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash. This Executive order has done exactly what it wants; it has, in effect, put at the disposal of Daesh and its supporters a useful recruiting sergeant to radicalise more impressionable young men and women, creating the danger of more home-grown terrorism, not less. This blanket order will marginalise many moderate Muslims, warping their perception of the west and giving Daesh’s claims that the US is the enemy of Islam more credibility where there should be none. This marginalisation will continue into the UK, presenting further threats of radicalisation here, too. This must not be allowed to happen.
I was delighted that at their joint press conference our Prime Minister and President Trump pledged to renew the special relationship between the UK and the USA—a relationship that has proven so beneficial for both countries and the world. The uniqueness of the special relationship has meant that the Prime Minister and our Foreign and Home Secretaries have rightly been able to convey their concerns to the President’s Administration, with some success.
If this strategy of calling for a sensible review of the order is to continue, with the intention, I hope, of replacing it with a reasoned, measured, evidence-based alternative, then we cannot accept calls for a cessation of relations with the President—or, I might add, the postponement of his state visit here—until this order is revoked. We cannot possibly have a constructive discussion with the President unless we maintain exceptionally close relations and dialogue. For this reason, I think we should welcome President Trump to the United Kingdom at the earliest opportunity, so that we might personally engage in meaningful dialogue with our closest ally in the hope of a change in stance.
My message to the President would be this. He is a big man—a powerful individual—and what he says and does has profound effects throughout the world. In his last statement, he spoke of his compassion. As a Christian, he should reconsider this order and look at the evidence that suggests that it will have precisely the opposite consequences to the ones he intended to achieve. He should think again on his policy to impose an indefinite ban on thoroughly vetted Syrian refugees who are in desperate, desperate need. The America I know would welcome them; it would be a cradle of comfort, and would not seek to reject them or others like them. Lastly, he should always, in everything he does, remember the values on which his great country was built.