Changes in Us Immigration Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:28 pm on 30th January 2017.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary 8:28 pm, 30th January 2017

This has been an extraordinary debate, in which we have seen the House at its best. Let me begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband and Nadhim Zahawi on securing it, and on the immensely powerful and important statements they have both made, not just today, but since this hateful policy was announced on Friday night. Tellingly, they and others, from Chancellor Merkel to Sir Mo Farah, were able to see immediately that this policy is abhorrent and reprehensible, and to condemn it, whereas as far as the British Prime Minister was concerned it was not a matter for comment, and almost three days later she has still not condemned it. She has only told us that it is not a policy she would pursue—that is not condemning it. As my right hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman both know, this is not a time for cowardice. It is not a time for staying silent or for going for trade deals at almost any cost; it is a time to stand up for what is right. So many Members have talked tonight about the desperation that forces people to flee from war, terror and persecution, and the terrible consequences that befall the world when we bar the door and turn our backs on those most in need.

Many have pointed out that it added grotesque insult to grave injury for President Trump to announce this policy on Holocaust Memorial Day. On that day, we among millions of others remember the 900 Jewish refugees on the MS St Louis who were turned away from the United States and forced to return to Antwerp, plunging them back into the holocaust from which 254 of them would never emerge. It was of course in the aftermath of those horrors that the 1951 Geneva refugee convention was agreed, which was renewed afresh and signed by the United States in 1967. That convention enshrines the principle that all signatories should give shelter to those fleeing war and persecution, regardless of their race, religion and nationality. The Executive order could not be a more calculated demolition of that principle.

We learned on Saturday that Chancellor Merkel had to explain the convention in her phone call with President Trump, but we have to do more than explain it. It is incumbent on every other signatory to that convention to press the United States to live up to its commitments and its obligations, so I support my right hon. Friend’s call for a European Heads of Government meeting to consider a united response to this Executive order and to the breach of the refugee convention. I urge the Minister to respond to those calls when he speaks.

Given the response of the Minister’s boss to my earlier questions—perhaps, more honestly, I should say the lack of response—may I ask him to address urgently the issue of the position of UK residents who are foreign nationals and not passport holders but residents? I am thinking in particular of those with indefinite leave to remain, thousands of whom will now find themselves discriminated against simply because of their country of origin, even though many are here precisely because they have fled the terror and religious extremism that the Executive order purports to prevent. Whether these people are Somali or Sudanese, Syrian or Yemeni, Iraqi, Iranian or Libyan, they are our constituents. They work hard, they pay their taxes, they are raising their families here and they call the UK their home. They are part of our communities and we have a duty to stand up for their rights as well. So may I ask the Minister as a first step to tell us how many UK residents he believes will be affected in this way, and what advice his Department and the Home Office are offering them?

Frankly, this is a debate I never thought we would need to have; the very idea that we would be looking at a new American President, just a few weeks into the job, not just aghast at what he has already done, but debating how much worse things could get from here. How long ago it seems since the Foreign Secretary was telling us to be optimistic about the new presidency and was saying that this President shared our values and we were being premature in judging him. How naive that looks now.

Yet this is the President for whom the Government are preparing to roll out the red carpet and welcome on a state visit. I was checking the figures today and I found that since the first state visit of President Reagan in 1982 the quickest period between inauguration and making a state visit to Britain was 17 months—that was for President Obama. The average has been 25 months, with both President Clinton and President George W. Bush having to wait almost three years. So why the indecent haste for this most indecent of Presidents?

This is a President who has made lewd and vile comments about the Duchess of Cambridge; who has said that he does not want to meet the Prince of Wales, because someone might finally stand up to him about climate change; and who has banned thousands of our residents and millions worldwide from visiting America simply because of their nationality and their religion. And President Trump thinks that we should put on a parade for him while that grotesque ban is still in place! If it goes ahead, it will be a national shame, which is why the Opposition will oppose having a state visit in such circumstances. We will certainly oppose any suggestion that President Trump is given the honour of addressing both Houses of Parliament.

Last week, the Prime Minister promised to speak frankly to President Trump and tell him where she disagreed with him, but we heard nothing of the sort from Washington. We heard nothing about climate change or respect for human rights and women’s rights. We heard nothing about punishing war crimes in Syria, the nuclear deal with Iran, or the illegal settlements in the west bank. We got the same stony silence from the Prime Minister when she was asked about the Executive order. Three times she was asked the question in Ankara, and three times she ignored it. Was she told about it by President Trump? There have been reports on “Channel 4 News” that she was. The Secretary of State ducked the question; perhaps the Minister will enlighten us and answer directly: did the President tell the Prime Minister about the Executive order when they met?

The Prime Minister referred in Washington to a special relationship based on our shared history and interests, but she has to realise, and needs to make President Trump realise, that it is also a relationship based on shared values. If the President is going to discard those values, whether by embracing torture or ignoring climate change, or by demonising people as aliens and terrorists based simply on their religion and nationality on the very day on which we remember the holocaust, the Prime Minister must be willing to tell him frankly: “Mr President, you are wrong. This is not who we are.” The fact that, almost three full days after the announcement, we have yet to hear a word of condemnation from her own mouth is not just shameful, it is cowardly. Some iron lady she has turned out to be.