London — President Donald Trump's order barring US entry to people from seven majority Muslim nations is "divisive, discriminatory and wrong," British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Monday. But he rebuffed calls for the government to cancel Trump's planned state visit to the UK because of the temporary ban.
Johnson said he had told American officials that it's wrong "to promulgate policies that stigmatiase people on the basis of their nationality".
He told lawmakers in the House of Commons that the Trump administration had assured him that "all British passport holders remain welcome to travel to the US," even if they are also citizens of one of the seven countries.
Confusion has reigned about whether dual nationals are affected by the 90-day ban on citizens of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Libya.
Britain's three biggest opposition parties have all called on the government to revoke Trump's state visit, planned for later this year, and an online petition opposing the trip has more than 1.3 million signatures. Any petition with more than 100,000 signatures must be considered for a debate in Parliament, though not a binding vote.
State visits involve lavish pomp and ceremony, generally with a stay at Buckingham Palace as the guest of Queen Elizabeth II.
Johnson echoed Prime Minister Theresa May's Downing St. office in saying that the visit should go ahead.
"He is the elected head of state of our closest and most important ally and there is absolutely no reason why he should not be accorded a state visit, and every reason why he should," Johnson said.
Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper was one of several legislators to accuse the government of a weak response.
Noting that Trump's order had been signed on Holocaust Memorial Day, she told Johnson: "For the sake of history, for heaven's sake have the guts to speak out."
Furor over the travel ban has tarnished what British officials had considered a highly successful trip to Washington by May, who met Trump at the White House on Friday — the first foreign leader to visit the president since his inauguration.
Criticism of May's wooing of Trump erupted when — only hours after the prime minister had left the White House — the president signed an executive order imposing a 90-day entry ban for citizens of the seven countries. The order also bars all refugees entering the country for 120 days.
The website of the U.S. Embassy in London on Monday advised nationals of the seven countries — "including dual nationals" — not to book visa appointments, saying their applications would not be processed.
The advice was removed from the site before Johnson's statement to Parliament.
The British exemption didn't end the storm of opposition, with prominent members of May's Conservative Party joining in calls for Trump's visit to be scrapped.
Sayeeda Warsi, a former government minister and Conservative member of the House of Lords, said that it was "sending out a wrong signal" to invite Trump, a leaders whose values "are not the same as British values".
But former Conservative Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind said Britain had welcomed other leaders on state visits despite human rights concerns, including Chinese President Xi Jinping.
He told the BBC that, "whatever we think of him, (Trump) is well-disposed to the United Kingdom, and it would be pretty silly, from everybody's point of view, simply to throw away that opportunity to develop that relationship".