UK stands firm on Trump invite despite growing protest
AFP , Monday 30 Jan 2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday refused to back down on inviting US President Donald Trump for a glitzy state visit, despite a petition gaining more than a million signatures and protesters rallying outside Downing Street.

May is standing firm on the invitation, which would see Trump honoured by parliament and Queen Elizabeth II, despite the premier's office saying she does not agree with his controversial ban on refugees and citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries.

"The United States is a close ally of the UK, we work together across many areas of mutual interest and we have that special relationship between us," May told a press conference in Dublin alongside her Irish counterpart Enda Kenny.

"I have issued that invitation for a state visit to President Trump to the UK and that invitation stands."

The British premier added: "In relation to the policies that have been announced by the US, the UK takes a different approach."

May announced the state visit during a meeting with Trump at the White House on Friday, which was intended to boost trade ties after Britain leaves the European Union

But her closeness to the erratic billionaire drew fire at home, particularly when she initially failed to condemn the travel ban, saying it was a US affair.
Protesters rallied in cities across the UK on Monday, with a police source telling AFP the crowd in London stood at tens of thousands.

"Don't hold hands with Nazis" and "No to racism, no to Trump" read placards in London, while the crowd chanted: "Shame on you Theresa May."

Protester Annette Connors, 41, said the government's position on Trump suggested Britain was more concerned with scoring a trade deal than principles.

"I'm very much against Trump being invited for a state visit, I'm also very disappointed at the government response to what he does compared to European leaders' responses," she told AFP.

By Monday evening, more than 1.4 million people had signed an online petition calling for the state visit to be cancelled because Trump's "well-documented misogyny and vulgarity disqualifies him" from meeting the queen.

Set up several months ago, the number of signatures has surged since Trump signed his contentious executive order on Friday.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the smaller Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party have all called for the state visit to be cancelled, as have some from May's own party.

Conservative Muslim lawmaker Sayeeda Warsi told BBC radio Britain should question whether it should roll out the red carpet for "a man who has no respect for women, disdain for minorities... and whose policies are rooted in divisive rhetoric."

Trump's order suspended the arrival of all refugees for at least 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely, and barred citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.

The British foreign minister Boris Johnson told parliament it was "divisive and wrong to stigmatise because of nationality", confirming that, after talks with the US administration, most Britons would be exempt.

However, Johnson said there was "no reason" why Trump shouldn't receive a state visit, calling the US-UK relationship the "single most important geopolitical fact of the last 100 years".

High-profile British citizens briefly caught up in the new US rules included Somali-born Olympic champion Mo Farah, who slammed a policy based on "ignorance and prejudice" that could keep him apart from his US-based family.

The Foreign Office later announced the order would only apply to individuals travelling directly to the US from one of the seven listed countries.

However, there was some confusion when the US embassy in London said anyone with a passport from those countries would not get a visa there.

Trump, whose mother was born in Scotland, has made clear his fondness for Britain and has said last summer's Brexit vote was a "smart" move.