We are truly in uncharted territory now. Tribune has rarely, if ever, applauded the decisions of the “men in tights” and other Westminster apparatchiks who generally aim to subvert the will of the people. But we can make an exception for Commons Speaker John Bercow, who ruled – to howls of Tory and Ukip rage – that President Donald Trump is not welcome to address both Houses of Parliament during his state visit later this year.
Bercow is one of three “key holders’ to Westminster Hall, the traditional venue for such events, along with the Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord Fowler, and the Lord Great Chamberlain, a hereditary peer in charge of certain parts of the Palace. All three must agree in order for an address to take place, effectively blocking the event. So it is a Tory MP, albeit a pompous maverick, who has so far proved more effective in pricking the Trump bubble than mass demonstrations or HM’s Official Opposition.
Of course, there is a whiff of hypocrisy here – the Speaker was happy to host such proven despots as Chinese president Xi Jinping and Kuwaiti emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Saber. But it was the unseemly speed with which Theresa May offered Trump all the trappings of a state visit which raised so many hackles, especially after a nasty US election campaign during which his racism and misogyny came to the fore. Bercow rightly pointed out that addressing both Houses was “not an automatic right”, but an “earned honour”. He went on: “I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons.” Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who spearheaded a motion to ban Trump, put it succinctly: “After Trump’s comments and actions on women, torture, refugees and the judiciary, he does not deserve to be honoured in the place where Nelson Mandela spoke and where Churchill’s body lay in state.”
On a wider front, Bercow’s decision has seriously undermined the prime minister’s very public effort to create a new special relationship with the Trump administration. It is a diplomatic disaster of Mrs May’s own making. Most former US presidents have waited years for a UK visit, Barack Obama made a speech in Westminster Hall in 2011 after three years in the White House, but her invitation within eight days of the Trump inauguration was sparked by Brexit panic.
Republican Congressman Joe Wilson led the outrage across the Atlantic, saying: “If ever in recent years there’s been a more pro-British president of the United States, it’s Donald Trump.” He had already assured Mrs May over his commitment to Nato, expressed a desire to create UK-US trade relationships, and returned a bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office.
But, in reality, such outrage is largely bogus. They’re just not that into us, as upcoming trade negotiations will show. The Trump family is most concerned about the pomp and ceremony and Trumpesque bling that will make up the rest of the state visit. The golden carriages, the state banquets, the cosy tete-a-tetes with the Queen, a round of golf at Balmoral’s private nine-hole course, sticking the finger to demonstrators outside the royal cordon, dirty disco dancing with the princesses (OK, the last one was made up, but you never know). All of which could add to the gaiety of the nation. Especially if Palace flunkeys fail to confiscate his mobile phone and, sitting next to Her Majesty, Trump tweets his wisdom between banquet courses. That would be a dialogue worth printing in full.