Theresa May insists Donald Trump gave her no advance warning of his 'Muslim ban' on refugees

Theresa May, speaking at Prime Minister's Questions
Theresa May, speaking at Prime Minister's Questions

Theresa May has insisted she had no “advance notice” of Donald Trump’s controversial announcement of a ban on refugees entering the US.

However, under pressure in the Commons, the Prime Minister insisted everyone was warned that some “travel restrictions” were coming – because the President had said so, in his election campaign.

The carefully-phrased answer appeared to leave open the possibility that the controversy was discussed in some form, during the two leaders’ White House meeting last week.

Ms May also failed to answer when Jeremy Corbyn demanded to know whether she had sought to “persuade” Mr Trump to step back from announcing his travel ban.

She told the Labour leader: “If he is asking me whether I had advance notice of the ban on refugees, the answer is no.

“If he is asking me if I had advance notice that the executive order could affect British citizens, the answer is no.

“If he is asking if I had advance notice of the travel restrictions, the answer is we all did - because President Trump said he was going to do this in his election campaign.”

The executive order signed by Mr Trump, at the weekend, halted the US refugee programme for 120 days and indefinitely banned all Syrian refugees.

However, separately, it also suspended all entry from seven mainly Muslim countries - Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Syria - on national security grounds, the White House said.

Ms May’s answer appeared to refer to only the first aspect of the order, not the second - which has triggered the loudest protests.

The Prime Minister insisted that, what mattered, was “to protect the interests of British citizens – and that is exactly what she did”.

On Monday, Channel 4 News claimed that Ms May was tipped off in advance about the travel ban, something Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson refused to answer questions about.

The claim was potentially hugely damaging, after her initial refusal to criticise the announcement on Saturday – before, many hours later, No.10 said it was wrong.

To the surprise of many MPs, Mr Corbyn did not continue to question Ms May about what was said in the White House – including whether she tried to influence Mr Trump on the travel ban.

On why she initially failed to condemn the ban, the Prime Minister said: “I have made very clear, very clear that we believe that this policy is divisive and wrong, that it is not a policy that we would introduce, and I have also made very clear when asked about this, that this Government has a very different approach to these issues.”

Mr Corbyn told Ms May: “President Trump has torn up international agreements on refugees.

“He's threatened to dump international agreements on climate change. He's praised the use of torture. He's incited hatred against Muslims. He's directly attacked women's rights.

“Just what more does President Trump have to do before the Prime Minister will listen to the 1.8m people who have already called for his state visit invitation to be withdrawn?”

But the Prime Minister insisted Labour would not have achieved what she did – an exemption for all British citizens from the travel ban, laying the “foundations of a trade deal” and a “100 per cent commitment to Nato”.

She said: “That's what Labour has to offer this country - less protection for British citizens, less prosperous, less safe. He can lead a protest, I'm leading a country.”

Critics point out that, while Ms May claimed Mr Trump had given “100 per cent commitment to Nato”, the President made no such public statement.

Meanwhile, the petition calling for his state visit to be abandoned will be debated by MPs on February 20, as it nears two million signatures.

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