The U.K. Can Survive a Trump Visit

Let him in.

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Surely the British Parliament has a better way to spend three hours.

On Monday, MPs will debate the merits of a petition signed by more than 500,000 Britons demanding that the government block Donald Trump from setting foot on their sceptered isle. It might be the worst idea since London Mayor Boris Johnson decided to ride a zipline during the 2012 Olympics -- and to his credit, Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has declared there’s no chance of it happening.

Nevertheless, British law requires Parliament to consider for debate any petition receiving 100,000 signatures. Whether Trump should be banned is a question that can be dispensed with quickly, and then maybe that famous British talent for oratory can be devoted to a reaffirmation of the value of free speech.

The petition’s supporters are appalled -- understandably so -- at Trump’s demagogic tendencies. Trump has said he would prohibit foreign Muslims from entering the U.S. until the federal government can “figure out what is going on” concerning Islamic terrorism. He’s also played to nativist feelings by alleging that Mexico is sending its worst people -- drug dealers and rapists -- north of the border.

Trump’s pandering to anti-foreign sentiment, while odious, has earned him a following among Americans. Britons are not seeking to bar those who say quietly what Trump says loudly, and for good reason: Democracies require tolerance of widely diverging political viewpoints. Moreover, attempts to suppress them are inevitably counterproductive. Trump, like an author whose book is banned, could not ask the British public for better publicity.

British policy allows the Home Office to bar foreigners who engage in “unacceptable behaviours.” Among those caught in this dragnet is conservative American radio host Michael Savage, whose nativist views have been deemed a threat to public security by the U.K.

Maybe those MPs can also debate why Savage is banned. A British ban on Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who wants to prohibit the construction of mosques and selling of the Koran, did not withstand judicial scrutiny, and Britain appears to have survived his subsequent visit unscathed. Likewise, it has survived visits from Trump, who owns two golf courses in Scotland and has traveled to the U.K. many times without incident (he never travels without controversy, which is not quite the same thing).

Governments are justified in barring foreigners who advocate or incite violence and terrorism. But that power ought to be used with the greatest of care, and not in response to petitions fueled by political passions.

(Corrects third paragraph reference to law. Parliament must consider debating, but isn't obliged to debate, petitions with 100,000 signatures.)

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.