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US embassies contradict UK’s claim of Trump travel ban concessions

Boris Johnson’s claim to have extracted concessions from Donald Trump over his travel ban was thrown into confusion on Monday after embassies around Europe, including London, issued statements contradicting the UK foreign secretary.

Amid a public storm over the issue, the UK Foreign Office said on Sunday evening that the extreme vetting programme would apply to fewer than expected dual-nationality Britons going to the US. It said only British citizens travelling directly from one of the seven affected nations — and who also held passports for that country — would be affected.

But on Monday afternoon that stance appeared to be contradicted after the US embassy in London released a statement saying that any “national, or dual national” from the seven affected countries should not schedule a visa or attend an existing visa appointment.

The US embassy in Berlin also confirmed that the order covered dual nationals and advised would-be travellers not to seek a visa appointment. The German foreign ministry said it could not explain why the UK’s Foreign Office seemed to be giving different advice. The same advice was offered in embassies around Europe, including The Netherlands.

Downing Street appeared to be caught on the hop on Monday as it was giving its daily briefing to political journalists. The Number 10 spokesman, told about the announcement by the US embassy in London, refused to comment until he could find out more.

A different official later explained that the embassies were expected to adjust their advice on Monday.

The conflicting signals coming from the White House and US diplomats abroad underlined the Trump administration’s difficulties after having rolled out the executive order on Friday without vetting it through US agencies responsible for border security.

On Sunday evening, the Department of Homeland Security was forced to issue a statement exempting foreigners with permanent resident status in the US from the ban. The seven countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

A petition against Mr Trump’s state visit to the UK this summer had gathered more than 1m signatures by Monday afternoon, underlining growing public anger in the UK about the US president’s stance on immigration.

Downing Street appeared to distance Mrs May from the invitation, saying that state visits were proposed by a previously obscure group called the “state visit committee”.

The committee includes the permanent undersecretary at the Foreign Office and the private secretaries to Number 10, the Queen, the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge.

There has been speculation that figures such as Sir Mo Farah, the UK athlete who was born in Somalia, and Nadhim Zahawi, an Iraqi-born MP from Mrs May’s Conservative party, might be caught up in the controversial ban.

On Sunday night Sir Mo’s spokesman said the sportsman, who lives in Oregon, was relieved not to be affected but added that he “still fundamentally disagrees with this incredibly divisive and discriminatory policy”.

It is unclear whether the concessions, if they are confirmed, will be enough to quell wider anger about the Trump initiative, given that much of the criticism was over its discriminatory nature rather than its direct impact on UK citizens.

Downing Street said on Monday that it still did not approve of Mr Trump’s policy.

Demonstrators at Los Angeles International Airport protest against US President Donald Trump’s travel ban © Reuters

The row over the issue has threatened to overshadow what had been widely seen as a successful visit by Mrs May to Washington last week, where she sought to find common ground with the US president. It demonstrates the difficult tightrope that Downing Street is having to walk in its dealings with the unpredictable new administration in Washington.

On Saturday, pressed by journalists during a press conference in Turkey, Mrs May had refused to condemn the US president’s refugee ban. Apparently reluctant to damage her relationship with Mr Trump, the prime minister declined to answer a question on the subject three times.

After being heckled by journalists to answer the question, Mrs May said: “The United States is responsible for the United States’ policy on refugees.”

This elicited criticism from other politicians including Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, who said the prime minister had demonstrated a “weak failure” by refusing to criticise the US president.

Only later — just after midnight on Sunday morning — did Downing Street issue a more critical statement

Additional reporting by Duncan Robinson in Brussels

Via FT