Is May following Trump’s model?

Samantha Novak worries that Theresa May is using the shock of Trump for her own isolationist agenda

Since Donald Trump was inaugurated on 20 January this year, it seems as though there has been a daily barrage of outcry after outcry. Some would say, given the campaign he ran, and the populist nature of the platform he ran on, this is not surprising.

What has surprised many, is the swiftness at which he has imposed (the now overturned) travel ban, and the flippant nature with which his plans appear to have been drawn up. A further surprise has been Theresa May’s unwillingness to condemn the ban, and, what’s
more, her own response to the refugee crisis: withdrawing a scheme to allow unaccompanied child refugees sanctuary in the UK.

The initial resettlement plan was proposed by Labour peer Alf Dubs, and was passed in 2016 as an amendment to the Immigration Act: it paved the way to allow 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children into the UK.

On Thursday of last week (9 February), it was announced that this scheme was coming to a close after admitting only 350 child refugees into the UK. There has been the expected anger. Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi, who is of Iraqi origin but a British citizen, called it “a sad sad day to feel like a second-class citizen … the order does apply to myself and my wife as we were both born in Iraq.” The impact of the ban is shockingly pervasive.

What is most worrying, though, is what this says about our government, its priorities, and what this means for the Western world. Has May seen Trump’s ‘crack-down’ on immigrants and refugees as paving the way for more stringent measures in the UK? Has this been a long-planned U-turn on a promise, that the government tried to sneak out in and amongst all of the outcry at Trump?

Or are there more pressing reasons for the withdrawal of the scheme? Perhaps there is some issue of national security at risk. Perhaps the costs of these child refugees are crippling and would divert funds from hospitals, or education?

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Whatever the reason, it seems unlikely that there is a reasonable response for this – the government certainly hasn’t furnished the public with one. What is more concerning is what this might mean for the western world. It seems that we are slowly moving towards a policy of isolationism, where nations forget that we are all citizens of the world, and have du- ties to one another. Instead, states are putting sovereignty above all else, including humanity.

Trump symbolises a far wider problem: people feeling disenfranchised. Through his continuous stream of outrageous actions he gives other governments carte blanche to act in equally outrageous ways. More worryingly, he may be allowing other governments to hide behind the furore that his actions are creating.

Time will tell if our own government will continue down this path. But, without a doubt, May’s decision to renege on a promise to child refugees is a worrying sign. One can only hope this is simply a misstep, and not the first step on a path to far more nationalistic policies.