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Pressure grows on Theresa May over 'US briefing' on Donald Trump travel ban

Theresa May is under growing pressure to say whether she was briefed by Donald Trump's aides on his controversial travel ban when she met the new president for the first time last week.

The Prime Minister has defended her invitation to honour Mr Trump with a state visit - despite a growing outcry, with more than 1.5 million people signing a petition calling for it to be scrapped.

However she is facing calls from MPs to say what she was told by American officials about the temporary ban on nationals from seven mainly Muslim countries issued hours after her meeting with the president in the White House on Friday.

Downing Street refused to be drawn on a report by Channel 4 News that she had been told that refugees would be barred from travelling to the US, although officials were said not to have revealed much detail.

"You will have heard the Prime Minister and the president's comments following their discussions and we are not going to go into details of a private meeting," a No 10 spokesman said.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs he was not prepared to comment on "confidential conversations" between the two leaders.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said it was "disgraceful" that Mrs May had appeared to know about the ban in advance but did nothing to prevent it.

"I can only assume the Prime Minister is so desperate for a Brexit deal that she looked the other way and didn't want to rock the boat. This is utterly shameful. Parliament needs to know what she knew and when," he said.

Despite growing protests at the planned state visit, Mrs May - in Dublin for talks with Irish prime minister Enda Kenny - was adamant it would go ahead.

"The United States is a close ally of the United Kingdom. We work together across many areas of mutual interest and we have that special relationship between us," she told a joint news conference.

In the Commons, Mr Johnson told MPs the Government had been given assurances the ban would not affect British passport holders.

"We have received assurances from the US embassy that this executive order will make no difference to any British passport holder, irrespective of their country of birth or whether they hold another passport," he said.

Foreign Office sources suggested the UK had secured a "special carve-out" from Mr Trump's policy after a round of frantic diplomatic activity, with Mr Johnson and Home Secretary Amber Rudd contacting their counterparts.

The US embassy had earlier suggested that UK citizens with dual nationality including one of the seven countries covered by the temporary travel ban - Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - should not seek to obtain a visa. The guidance was subsequently removed from the embassy website.

Mr Johnson stressed the travel ban was not British Government policy and ministers would not consider such a measure.

"I have already made clear our anxiety about measures that discriminate on grounds of nationality in ways that are divisive and wrong," he said.

He faced a barrage of criticism from opposition MPs - as well as some Conservatives - over the Government's refusal to take a tougher line with the US administration.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said Mr Trump was "descending down a very dangerous slope" on issues of human rights, torture and the rights of minorities.

"When that happens we need a prime minister who is prepared to tell him to stop, not one who simply proffers her hand and silently helps him along," she said.

Veteran left-winger Dennis Skinner compared the US president with Hitler and Mussolini, accusing the Government of being "hand-in-hand with another fascist - Trump".

Conservative former minister Sir Simon Burns said the travel ban was "despicable and immoral" while fellow Tory Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested it would be "a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism".

Mr Johnson said comparisons between the elected leader of the US and the "tyrants of the 1930s" were "inappropriate" and warned that attempts to "pointlessly demonise" the president would be counter-productive.


From Belfast Telegraph