British officials drop plans for Donald Trump to address parliament

UK state visit will take place during recess to avoid snub by MPs – and president’s exposure to public protests will be limited

The government has abandoned the idea of Donald Trump addressing the joint Houses of Parliament when he comes to Britain for a state visit later this year after objections by MPs led by the Commons Speaker John Bercow.

The US president’s controversial visit is now expected to run from a Thursday to a Sunday in late summer or early autumn, with officials trying to ensure that Trump is not in London at a time when parliament is sitting, in order to avoid a formal snub.

Commons Speaker ‘strongly opposed’ to Westminster Hall address by President Trump

According to Westminster sources, a weekend visit at the very end of August or in September is now under discussion between the government, Buckingham Palace and the White House. A source described such a plan as “the preferred option at our end”. Parliament will be in summer recess until 5 September and adjourns again for the party conferences on 15 September for nearly a month.

Such an arrangement would mean that Trump would not be invited to address parliament at all. The approach follows Bercow’s statement this week that he would not give his consent either to a speech by the president in Westminster Hall or in the royal gallery, both of which have traditionally been used for addresses by visiting statesmen and women.

Officials are also said to be keen to limit the president’s public exposure more generally during the visit, in order to reduce the opportunities for protests and disorder on a state occasion. Hundreds of thousands of protesters could be expected in any large city, causing major headaches for the emergency and security services. This suggests that the president will spend relatively little time in London, while the majority of the visit will be conducted behind as strict a security cordon as possible.

A further issue that has still to be resolved is the extent to which the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will be involved in a visit of which, officially at least, she is the host. The couple, who are both now in their 90s, normally spend late August and September at Balmoral in Aberdeenshire and only rarely return to London during their stay.

One possibility is that Trump could be invited to a state banquet at Windsor Castle, rather than at Buckingham Palace. This would be easier to guard against protesters and would cause less disruption, while satisfying the necessary protocols.

Trump might be encouraged to spend a significant part of his visit in Scotland, perhaps visiting the Queen at Balmoral rather than in England, and enabling him to visit the Isle of Lewis, where his mother, Mary MacLeod, was born in 1912, before she left for the US as an immigrant. Trump also owns two golf courses in Scotland, Turnberry in Ayrshire and a purpose-built course at Balmedie north of Aberdeen.

Any visit to Scotland would raise delicate political issues for the nationalist government in Scotland led by Nicola Sturgeon, which would have to decide whether to boycott Trump or not. Scottish National party MPs at Westminster broke into applause at Bercow’s statement this week, But Scotland’s former first minister Alex Salmond told an LBC radio phone-in this month that he favoured the president coming to Balmoral.

Invitations to deliver an address in the royal gallery normally require the Speakers of the Commons and the Lords, currently Bercow and Lord Fowler, to agree, while invitations to Westminster Hall also involve the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Marquess of Cholmondeley. On Monday Bercow made clear he would not support an invitation at either venue, triggering calls from some backbenchers for him to step down.

Two of Trump’s modern predecessors as president, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, have addressed the joint houses in the royal gallery. Only Barack Obama, in 2011, has made a speech in the 11th-century Westminster Hall.

Even before Bercow’s intervention, government ministers are believed to have concluded that the level of objection among MPs of all parties after Trump’s executive order banning arrivals from seven mainly Muslim countries made a parliamentary invitation too politically hazardous to justify. The leader of the Commons, David Lidington, is said to have reached this conclusion before the Speaker made his own opposition public in the chamber on Monday.

A White House spokesperson told the Guardian “we have no further details to share at this time”.

Contributor

Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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