When President Trump initiated a travel ban on 7 majority Muslim countries it was met with howls of derision and criticism from Britain. Theresa May took her time before deciding she was also against it and thought it was wrong however she may have been correct in her first position. Britain, in particular Theresa May, can rightly be accused of acting hypocritically as it cries foul at Trump’s ban but proceeds to make steps to stop immigrants from across the globe arriving in the UK.
President Trump’s travel ban was enacted just over a week ago, although recently was suspended by a US judge, it banned all arrivals from seven countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. The ban may also include joint nationals which pulled people like Sir Mo Farah and Conservative MP, Nadhim Zahwahi in to the ban. Theresa May at first took the position that America’s policy was America’s business but has since changed to thinking it is wrong.
Britain, and Prime Minister May in particular is in no position to be critical of President Trump’s policy however as the country recently voted in favour of Brexit, influenced heavily by immigration, and Theresa May personally has a history of strong anti-immigrant sentiment.
The UK has long been battling the immigration issue, arguing about numbers, communities being over-run and even the “swarms” of immigrants arriving in the country. It came to a head during the 2016 referendum campaign when immigration was arguably the decisive issue with advertising such as the ‘breaking point’ poster unveiled by Nigel Farage. While it is impossible to say this was the main factor for all 52% of Leave voters it was undoubtedly a major argument on the winning side.
Since the result the UK has followed a path favouring ‘controls’ and a lowering of immigration numbers over any economic arguments. Theresa May will take the UK out of the single market and customs union in order to close borders and stop immigration numbers rising. The UK and Prime Minister May have also refused to secure a safe future for EU citizens living in the UK. Her moves have been applauded by Nigel Farage and Donald Trump himself.
This recent history makes it very difficult for the United Kingdom to speak with any authority for a pro-immigration message. In an even more difficult position is Prime Minister, Theresa May, who has a long history of taking very strong steps to target immigrants and reduce immigration numbers.
It was under Theresa May that the Home Office trialled the so-called ‘go home’ vans in London. This was a hugely controversial and highly criticised policy to drive vans emblazoned with ‘go home’ posters aimed at illegal immigrants based in London. The idea faced widespread criticism in most of the media coverage; labelled racist by Tory councillors and Theresa May herself later admitted that the plan had not been a success.
Along with the ‘Go Home’ vans Theresa May has been accused of using very strong language on the immigration front. In 2012 Mrs May in her role as Home Secretary said she wanted to make a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, clamping down on job opportunities, housing and bank accounts. Fast forward to 2015 and Theresa May was again suggesting that immigration was a “threat to social cohesion,” and that it brought almost no economic benefit which has been proven to be untrue.
How immigrants are treated by Theresa May and the Conservative government is a further area of concern. Yarl’s Wood, a detention centre holding those who have been turned down by the immigration system, was raised as a place of national concern by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in 2015. The centre has faced numerous allegations, including sexual abuse of female detainees.
Home Secretary, Theresa May, refused to reveal the number of women abused or raped while at the detention centre and then denied UN inspectors from accessing the area. The rights and civil liberties of immigrants and the wider public in general have been reduced further by the so-called ‘Snoopers Charter’ which was promoted and supported by Theresa May. This law has faced court challenges from human rights groups including Liberty.
Given the chequered history of treatment of immigrants and the immigration issue, it is no wonder Theresa May was hesitant to criticise the Trump travel ban. Not only is the Prime Minister in a difficult position given her past stances but it may even be the case that Theresa May is not actually opposed to the idea at all. Considering her past attempts at stopping and targeting immigrants, it is not a stretch to think this type of policy could be something she might like to introduce herself.
The UK in general should look at how it has broached the immigration issue itself before looking down on US approaches. Nadhim Zahwahi campaigned for tighter border controls and lower immigration numbers only last year but complains that he may be banned from the US by President Trump. It’s time the UK got to grips with its own fears over immigration before it looks to influence the approach of other countries.