Donald Trump should not be allowed to speak in UK parliament, says Speaker

Government sources describe John Bercow’s comments about US president as ‘hugely political and out of line’

Donald Trump is unfit to address MPs, according to the Speaker of the House of Commons, who said that he would refuse to invite the US president to speak at Westminster because of parliament’s long held opposition “to racism and to sexism”.

John Bercow warned that the opportunity to speak in the prestigious Westminster Hall during a state visit “is not an automatic right, it is an earned honour” in an extraordinary intervention that divided MPs and annoyed No 10.

The unprecedented step caused many MPs to pour praise on Bercow, but also triggered an angry response in parts of government with ministers privately claiming that he had overstepped the mark.

Senior figures accused the Speaker of grandstanding – while his counterpart in the House of Lords, Lord Fowler, was understood to be irritated by the unexpected statement.

Bercow, whose role is non-political, told MPs that he did not have the power to block the state visit invitation extended to Trump by Theresa May, but made clear that he would use his authority to prevent what is considered one of the high points of the official trip.

The Speaker made clear that he was always against the idea of Trump making a speech in the same hall that Barack Obama did in 2012, but said recent policies had left him even more determined to block the move.

“After the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump I am even more strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall,” Bercow told MPs, who were visibly shocked by his comments.

“I would not wish to issue an invitation to president Trump.”

In a raised voice, he added: “I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons.”

The Speaker made clear that invitations to address Westminster Hall were not simply issued by him but also Fowler.

“The Lord Speaker was not consulted by Mr Bercow on his statement. The Lord Speaker will make his own statement tomorrow to the Lords,” said a House of Lords spokesperson.

Bercow’s intervention is hugely significant because of the process by which a dignitary is invited to speak. Officials made clear that a government request to invite a head of state would be sent to Bercow and Fowler, who both have to agree to it. The lord great chamberlain, who represents the Queen, is then consulted.

His unexpectedly strong response shocked ministers and Downing Street officials, who have been working hard to build relations with the new president, including through the recent visit in which Trump grasped hold of the prime minister’s hand. May has also offered to be a “bridge” to Trump for European Union leaders, in a bid to make the most of the special relationship, which is seen as increasingly important by advisers following the Brexit vote.

“Bercow better make sure of the president’s plan before he shoots off like this. The clear indications are that the White House are not even planning to address both houses of parliament,” one government source said.

Others claimed that Bercow had been “hugely political and out of line”.

Labour’s Stephen Doughty.
Stephen Doughty called for Trump to be blocked from giving Westminster Hall speech. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The mood in Downing Street was said to be mild annoyance with the Speaker, with some questioning “if there is anything else that has never been proposed to which he would like to object”. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Bercow’s statement.

But there was also a sense that the Speaker – who has sat as a Conservative MP – was sufficiently separate to May for his comments to be of “no real consequence”.

Bercow was responding to a point of order by Labour MP Stephen Doughty, whose early day motion calling on officials to withhold permission for an address to Westminster Hall was signed by 163 colleagues.

The MP said he had informed the Speaker about the fact that he would raise the issue, in a standard courtesy, but was shocked by the strength of response.

“I am delighted that the Speaker has listened to members from across the house regarding our deep concerns that Donald Trump not be honoured with an address in Westminster Hall or elsewhere in the Palace of Westminster, after his comments and actions on women, torture, refugees and the judiciary,” he said.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper said Trump was “continuing his assault on the democratic values that the British Parliament holds dear”.

She said it was fine to invite him to the UK but not to offer the “special privilege of an address in the heart of our democracy”.

And Chi Onwurah said that more than 1.8 million people had signed a petition against a Trump address at Westminster Hall, saying it was “ridiculous” to allow it to go ahead. “I am glad the Speaker has given voice to what so many feel.”

Tory MP Heidi Allen admitted the comments were “controversial” for some, but insisted they were right.

However, Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said a number of his colleagues were surprised and annoyed by Bercow’s intervention. “He’s completely overstepped the mark. It was a pre-emptive strike to torpedo the leader of the democratically free world and our greatest ally from speaking in parliament,” he said, stressing the importance of a UK-US trade deal.

“Our relationship is now more important than at any time than the second world war.”

Bercow made clear that he had less say over the Royal Gallery — a second, smaller room that is used by world leaders to address parliamentarians — although he said he still had “a say in that matter”.

The government has rolled out the red carpet in a state visit more than 100 times, with controversial figures including Vladimir Putin and Robert Mugabe travelling to Britain for the honour. However, visits do not always include an invitation to address parliament. Westminster Hall tends to be limited to the most coveted guests, which have included the Pope, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.

Other leaders, including Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, have spoken in the Royal Gallery.

Government sources have told the Guardian that Trump would see such an address as “the ultimate establishment” act and claimed he would not want it. Instead, he is keen on the “pomp and ceremony” of a visit with the Queen, a military parade and golf at Balmoral palace.


Anushka Asthana , Jessica Elgot, Rowena Mason

The GuardianTramp

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