‘I Am Ashamed’ vs. ‘Get Over It’: British Lawmakers Debate Trump Visit




LONDON — With thousands of people demonstrating against President Trump outside Parliament, British lawmakers on Monday debated whether to deny him a formal state visit because, in the eyes of nearly two million Britons in an online petition, it would “cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the queen.”
The debate was a chance for the kind of political showmanship and heated language that British members of Parliament often do well.
Paul Flynn, an opposition Labour lawmaker, led the argument against a state visit, citing the need to keep public trust in politicians and noting that no president had ever been invited for a state visit in his first year in office.
Mr. Flynn also accused Mr. Trump of acting “like a petulant child” and said the queen should not be seen to be approving either his actions or his attitudes toward women and Muslims.
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Another online petition, signed by more than 300,000 people, called for the visit to go ahead. Petitions with more than 100,000 signatures are eligible for parliamentary debate.
Any vote would not be binding on the government of Prime Minister Theresa May, which has been firm in saying that the invitation to Mr. Trump for a full state visit this year will not be withdrawn.
Opponents of a visit were withering in their criticism of Mr. Trump. “The intellectual capacity of the president is protozoan,” Mr. Flynn said, and he quoted a journalist about the disgrace of “pimping out the queen for Donald Trump,” which the Conservative legislator Jacob Rees-Mogg called unworthy, even as a quotation.
Mr. Flynn accused Mr. Trump of complaining about the news media’s reporting of his election result and lying about the weather.
Alex Salmond, a legislator from the Scottish National Party, said that the invitation should be rescinded, because members should not confuse respect for the United States with a personal invitation to Mr. Trump.
During the debate, a Labour legislator, David Lammy, spoke of Mr. Trump’s attitudes and asked why Britain should “abandon all its principles” and invite him, “because this country is so desperate for a trade deal that we would throw all our own history out the window?”Traditionally, American presidents must wait several years before getting a state visit, and many do not get one at all. Mrs. May, after Britain’s vote in June to leave the European Union, was eager to cement good relations with the new American president and arranged a rapid visit to Washington. During the visit, she conveyed the invitation, which Mr. Trump accepted.
He added: “We didn’t do this for Kennedy. We didn’t do this for Truman. We didn’t do this for Reagan. But for this man, after seven days, we say, ‘Please come and we will lay on everything because we are so desperate for your company?’” He added, “I am ashamed that it has come to this.”
But a Conservative, James Cartlidge, said that if Britain canceled the visit, “there will be smiles all round in the Kremlin,” which wants to “divide the West.” And Simon Burns, a Conservative, said that it was important to be “a candid friend” able to influence Mr. Trump and the United States, particularly so given Britain’s plan to leave the European Union.
Various opinion polls indicate that a small majority of Britons support the state visit. Mr. Trump would hardly be the first contentious leader to be so honored; the queen, acting as always on the recommendation of the government, has in the past received President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and recently President Xi Jinping of China, after which she was caught on camera speaking of how “very rude” the Chinese had been.
“A queen who has been asked over the decades to host tyrants such as Presidents Mobutu of Zaire and Ceausescu of Romania is going to take a brash billionaire from New York effortlessly in her stride,” William Hague, a former foreign secretary, wrote in The Daily Telegraph.
There is also concern that a Trump visit would be met with large protests, comparable to 2003, when President George W. Bush made a state visit and many came out to protest the Iraq War.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has supported the petition to disinvite Mr. Trump because of the president’s “ban on people from seven Muslim-majorities countries” and his decision to block refugees from entering the United States. “In those circumstances, we shouldn’t be rolling out the red carpet,” Mr. Khan said on Sunday.
On Monday, the House of Lords began at least two days of debate on a bill, already passed by the House of Commons, to authorize the government to enact Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would inform the European Union of Britain’s intention to leave the bloc after voters chose to do so in the June referendum. The government intends to invoke Article 50 by the end of March, if not sooner, beginning at least two years of negotiations with the other 27 member states on the terms of Britain’s exit and a framework for future relations.
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