Trump State Visit Debate Gives U.K. Lawmakers Time to Sound Off

  • May insists invitation is still on despite opposition
  • Lawmakers attack speed of invitation to meet the Queen

For the second time in just over a year, the British Parliament debated the prospect of a visit from Donald Trump. 

In Jan. 2015, the question was whether the U.S. presidential candidate should be allowed into the country. Trump opponents having suffered some setbacks since then, and the question this time was whether, when he comes, Trump should be allowed to visit with Queen Elizabeth II.

Theresa May’s decision to offer the new president a state visit to Britain -- meaning his host will be Her Majesty -- has upset some Britons, with more than 1.8 million people signing an on-line petition urging the prime minister to think again. To show their distaste, hundreds of people gathered outside Parliament on Monday evening for a noisy anti-Trump rally. Among their placards: "Dump Trump," and "Theresa the Appeaser."

The prime minister has been clear that she’s not going to be swayed by the opposition, so the only practical result was a debate in Parliament -- something else May has made it clear she’ll ignore. Instead, the debate was a chance for members of parliament to sound off.

“The power is enormous,” Paul Flynn of the opposition Labour Party said of the president. “But unfortunately the intellectual capacity is protozoan.”

‘Paths of Righteousness’

The reasons for criticism were well-rehearsed: May had extended the invitation within a week of Trump taking office and lawmakers were angry at his attempt to ban entry to the U.S. from some Muslim countries and his comments about women. The word “pussy” was uttered several times in the chamber. The reasons used to defend the visit were also straightforward: the U.S. is an important ally, Trump is the president, and that’s unlikely to change.

Members who wished to speak against the state visit often felt the need to open by expressing their enthusiasm for the U.S. in general. Labour’s David Lammy revealed he’d visited America more times than France. Members -- largely from May’s Conservative Party -- who wanted to speak in support of the visit seemed to feel it important to make clear that they disagreed with much of what Trump has said.

Their case was expressed by Julian Lewis, who praised May’s strategy towards the president. She is trying, he said, to “take him by the hand and try to lead him down the paths of righteousness.”

Pimping the Queen

Much was made of the character of the Queen. Tory Nigel Evans said that Her Majesty had managed to put up with many worse visitors than the president. After all, he said, she had welcomed a Chinese leader a decade after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Opponents of the Trump trip were applying “double standards,” he said.

After one intervention that wasn’t to his taste, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Conservative, rose in anguish. “I don’t think it’s in order to refer to ‘pimping out our sovereign,”’ he complained.

It was Labour’s Naz Shah, a Muslim, who set out the case against a visit with the most passion, citing the president’s attitude towards her faith. “I am not an enemy of Western democracy,” she said, “I’m a part of Western democracy.”

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