31 January 2017
As a friend of America, Theresa May must condemn Trump’s travel ban

| First published in The Guardian

On Saturday I was told that I would be one of those that Donald Trump had decided were unfit to even visit America. Although I am British, and do not hold dual nationality, the so-called Muslim ban refers to individuals’ country of origin, and I was born in Iraq.

I was relieved to know by the end of Sunday that the British government and Foreign Office, led by Boris Johnson, had clarified that there would be exemptions for holders of British passports. However, that work does not make President Trump’s ill-thought-out policy any more bearable. And the assurances given to me and those like me have not removed a nagging doubt that we are no longer welcome in America.

My father made the decision to flee with my family after Saddam Hussein started his brutal oppression of the Kurdish people. Instead of facing a life of suffering I was welcomed into our wonderful country. I have been proud to call the UK home ever since, and what better form of acceptance is there than the people of Stratford-on-Avon voting for me to represent them as a community and be their voice in parliament?

In truth I have always previously felt accepted wherever I have found myself in the western world, and I have always enjoyed my visits to America. My twin sons were delighted to win places to study at Princeton, and have been excited to seize this opportunity to attend one of the greatest universities in the world. Last year one of my boys had a life-threatening illness, and like any parents we dropped everything to be with him. This weekend we had to face the possibility that we may not be able to do so again. It is so sad that the president of that great nation, which should be a beacon of freedom in an often dark world, had – until the intervention of our government – decided that for my boys, their mum and dad were unfit to enter his country.

Immigration will always be a controversial subject, and it is wholly legitimate for countries to control their borders, set rules on who is welcome to stay or visit and enforce compliance with these laws. Last year America tightened up its visa rules, and so my wife and I had to attend the American embassy for an interview. This was an uncomfortable experience, but entirely understandable. If you were about to let someone in your house, then you would most likely want to know who they were.

There will always be hoops through which to jump when travelling, and it is fair and right that they should be created, as a democratically elected government sees fit. However, Trump’s actions are not analogous to the creation of an extra hoop. He has not created an extra test that those who share my country of birth must navigate to prove that they are law-abiding, decent citizens who wish to access his country. Instead he has just removed their ability to even try.

This isn’t about getting tough on immigration; the president has in effect stated that there is nothing those from these Muslim-majority countries can do or say to prove that they are acceptable visitors to the United States of America – the land of the free.

I am lucky enough to have a platform from which to condemn this move, as a politician and a successful businessman, even if it appears no longer to directly affect me. Yesterday I, alongside Labour’s Ed Miliband, put forward a motion for an emergency debate in parliament. I am so proud that my fellow members of parliament voted unanimously in favour of urging the US government to repeal this counterproductive ban. The response from ordinary people in Britain has also been so heartening.

As Theresa May rightly said when she met Trump last week, we must tackle the ugly extremism of Islamic State and its ideological bedfellows. We must be tough on the threats to our citizens, and that means that we must control our borders. But to defeat that evil we should also be building and strengthening our relationships with allies and friends in the region, not cutting ourselves off from them. After all, the vast majority of victims of terrorism around the world are Muslims, caught in the midst of terror as they just try to go about their daily lives. The world we all wish to see is one that is safer for everyone: not a world from which we must cower behind a permanently raised drawbridge. That is not the action of strength. It is the action of ignorance, fear and weakness.

Our prime minister also said last week that part of being a good friend to America, and its new president, was pointing out when he was wrong. With this ban he has strayed far from what is acceptable, and so far from what our shared values require. Indeed, he has probably poured fuel on the fire of extremism, and created enemies, rather than winning friends. It is right for our government to say this loud and clear.

The US should be a shining example of how to deliver government for the people, of the people and by the people. A country that is governed by the rule of law, fair and equal to all. A country that where, if you play by the rules, you will be treated in the same way as every other person, regardless of race, religion or creed. This executive order is entirely in contravention of the founding principles of that nation, and it is rightly being condemned. I hope the president will think again.