Lords Speaker says Donald Trump could still address parliament

Lord Fowler would keep ‘open mind’ if request was made as Commons Speaker faces backlash over anti-Trump remarks

Donald Trump could still be issued with an invitation to address parliament during a state visit to the UK after officials revealed that a room in the House of Lords remains an option.

A spokesperson told the Guardian that the US president could be asked to speak in a second “prestigious venue” in parliament despite John Bercow’s extraordinary warning on Monday that he would block any Trump speech in Westminster Hall.

They pointed to remarks made earlier on Tuesday by the Lord Speaker, who insisted he would keep an “open mind” if a request was made, whatever had been said in the House of Commons.

A spokesperson representing Lord Fowler, who is also charged with issuing invitations to speak in parliament, said: “The Royal Gallery might be a possibility. The Royal Gallery is a prestigious venue and has hosted guests in the past including President Reagan.”

Bercow can block a speech being made from Westminster Hall, from where President Obama spoke, but he has made clear he has less say over the Royal Gallery. Sources confirmed that Lord Fowler could allow a speech to go ahead there if he decided it was appropriate.

It comes as Bercow faces a fierce backlash from Conservative MPs and peers who are calling on him to consider his position as Speaker after he took the unprecedented step of voicing his opposition to Trump.

His comments – that the US president’s “racism and sexism” made him unfit to address parliament – won plaudits from Labour and Scottish National party politicians on Monday who clapped and cheered in the Commons’ chamber.

In his statement to peers, Fowler complained that Bercow had not kept him informed of his actions: “I should make it clear that I was not consulted on that decision or its timing.” He added that Bercow had said sorry for not informing him in advance.

Fowler said it was not up to a Speaker to make a judgment on whether Trump should visit or not. “My view is that I will keep an open mind and consider any request for Mr Trump to address this parliament if and when it is made,” he said, although he also expressed his own campaigning against prejudice and discrimination, particularly aimed at the LGBT community.

In the Commons, Bercow did not apologise when challenged by MP Sir Gerald Howarth about the importance of neutrality. He responded that the decision to bar the US president from Westminster Hall was within the remit of his role and said he was being honest.

However, the Guardian understands that at least two Conservative MPs have approached parliamentary clerks to ask how to table a no-confidence motion in the Speaker, even though it would be unlikely to pass.

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

By Tuesday evening, a number of MPs had accused Bercow of overstepping the mark by actively “snubbing” government foreign policy, which aims to build bridges with the new US administration.

Alec Shelbrooke MP said Bercow’s job was to “be a referee not a player”. “His position is untenable because he cannot be deemed to be independent and a Speaker must have the respect from all sides of the house,” he told the Guardian.

The MP argued he did not agree with Trump’s comments about women, nor his “heavy-fisted, inexperienced act” of banning travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries. But he said this was not about Trump or Bercow, but about about the neutrality of the position.

“His comments undermine government policy,” he added, arguing that Theresa May had chosen to try to influence American policy by engaging with Trump.

He also criticised Bercow for a lack of consistency when he said it was an “honour” to welcome the emir of Kuwait – a country Fowler said had questionable policies towards gay people, women and banned Israeli citizens. Others pointed out that the Speaker had appeared happy with China’s president Xi Jinping addressing parliament, despite unrest among MPs about the country’s human rights record.

The former culture secretary John Whittingdale said he had been taken aback by the amount of correspondence from people who were “very cross”. “They don’t necessarily sign up to everything Trump says but they don’t like the very public attack on him by somebody who is supposed to be neutral,” he said.

The Tory MP argued that Bercow was speaking for Labour and SNP politicians – who applauded and cheered his intervention – but not for Conservatives.

“Even if he does have a strong view, the way you do it is to say to Theresa May, privately, ‘Let’s save the embarrassment’. He – by gratuitously making a strong attack – has ruled that impossible.”

Even Nadhim Zahawi, an outspoken critic of Trump’s travel ban that may have affected his own family, was angry with the Speaker, warning he had opened himself up to “accusations of partiality and hypocrisy”.

Writing in the Guardian, he urged Bercow to reconsider his position. “If we are to make the case to him that it is morally wrong to ban people based on their faith or country of origin, and that his order jeopardises global security, we cannot compromise our ability to do this by banning him from coming to the most famous place of debate and scrutiny in the world,” he said.

The issue caused annoyance in Downing Street and across Whitehall, although sources played down the impact it might have on US relations. It is understood that the question of an address to parliament has not come up during recent conversations with key figures in Trump’s administration.

One source insisted the US president wanted the pomp and ceremony of a state visit and was uninterested in the “ultimate establishment” act of addressing Westminster politicians.


Anushka Asthana and Peter Walker

The GuardianTramp

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