Monday 20 February 2017
[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]
President Trump: State Visit
This is a very over-subscribed debate. If all hon. Members stick to five minutes and do not take too many, if any, interventions, everybody should get in.
I remind those in the Public Gallery that this is a Chamber of the House of Commons. By all means listen and observe, but if there is any off-stage noise, I will suspend the sitting and clear the Public Gallery.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petitions 171928 and 178844 relating to a state visit by President Donald Trump.
It is a pleasure to serve under the chairmanship of such a distinguished parliamentarian, Mr Walker. I thank the Petitions Committee for allowing me to introduce the petitions. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about their nature. One of them, which has been signed by more than 300,000 people, states:
“Donald Trump should be invited to make an official State Visit because he is the leader of a free world and U.K. is a country that supports free speech and does not believe that people that appose our point of view should be gagged.”
The other petition, which has gained the remarkable total of 1,850,000 signatures in a few days and which has been much misunderstood, states:
“Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government, but he should not be invited to make an official State Visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.”
That is a fascinating prospect. The first petition suggests that cancelling the state visit would in some way deprive President Trump of his ability to speak freely, when in recent days we have had a ceaseless incontinence of free speech from him—the man is everywhere, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The other petition is saying not that he should not come here—he should come here, on business or other matters—but that he should not be accorded the rare privilege of a state visit.
Only two Presidents of the United States have been granted a state visit since 1952, yet we are in the extraordinary and completely unprecedented position in which, seven days into his presidency, President Trump has been invited to have the full panoply of a state visit. We can dwell on the reasons for that, but they are nothing to do with the fact that we in this Chamber all hold in great respect the United States’s presidency, constitution and presidential history, which is part of our history. We know how closely our cultures have melded together in the arts—in entertainment, film and cinema we are merging almost into one nation—but we have a direct interest in the presidency of the United States because the President is also the leader of the free world.
Does the hon. Gentleman interpret desperation as the reason for the invitation after seven days? If he can see desperation for a trade deal, does he think that President Trump might be able to detect it as well?
That word comes to mind when we think of the circumstances of our beleaguered Prime Minister. She is in the great predicament of being the bridge burner who is destroying the bridges between us and Europe. We were told of the possibility of Brexit bumps in the road ahead, but there might turn out to be a Brexit sinkhole into which our economy might plunge in freefall. She had a difficulty: could the bridge burner be the bridge builder? She made an attempt to present herself as someone who was going to act as the link between the presidency and Europe, but as the President of Lithuania quite rightly pointed out, we do not need a link, because we are in constant contact with President Trump through his incessant tweets.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although some of President Trump’s views on women, on race and on religion are very distasteful indeed, the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America goes beyond any individual who might happen to occupy the White House at any particular time?
I agree entirely. I know that from my own life; my father’s life was ruined by the first world war, and I remember being a child at school during the second world war and seeing the empty desks of children who had been killed by the bombs. We were very grateful for the United States at that time, and we remain grateful. Europe is right to remember that and to recall our gratitude. No country in the whole world has sacrificed the blood of its daughters and sons for democracy in other countries more than the United States.
There is no question of any disrespect towards the United States, but there is a great feeling of concern, which has welled up in this petition. The day after the inauguration, 2 million people, mostly women, marched on the streets of America and 100,000 people marched in this country. It was an expression of fear and anxiety that we had someone like this in the White House wielding such enormous power. The President’s power is enormous, but unfortunately his intellectual capacity is protozoan. We are greatly concerned about the extraordinary actions he has taken. He has blundered into frozen conflicts around the planet that needed delicate handling; they needed the microsurgery of decisions such as those that have been taken in the past by statesmen. He has gone in and caused problems in every area in which he has become involved: the South China sea, Ukraine, and Israel-Palestine.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the expression “grab ’em by the pussy” describes a sexual assault and therefore suggests that President Trump should not be afforded a visit to our Queen?
I entirely agree. President Trump’s manner and behaviour throughout the election period were greatly worrying, and his extraordinary reaction to his own inauguration was concerning; I believe that it partly provoked the demonstrations that took place. When he thought he was going to lose, he said that he was going to object to the election on the grounds of fraud, but it is extraordinary for someone to complain when they actually win. He complained about everything. He complained that the rain did not fall—we all saw it fall—and he complained about the number of people in the crowd. He complained and lied about his own result. It is of great concern that the President behaves like a petulant child. How would he behave in a future conflict that might arise?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s response to Mr Trump’s perhaps ill considered phraseology, but what complaint did he make when Emperor Hirohito, who was responsible for the rape of Nanking, came here?
Many people have come here who have been less welcome than others; that is absolutely true. We have had people here who were very unsavoury characters—not from the United States, as it happens—but we certainly should not try to imitate the errors of the past. We should set an example by making sure that we do not make those mistakes again.
As I said, this is a situation of grave concern, and the Prime Minister is in an awkward position. Since the seventh day of Mr Trump’s presidency, things have got far worse. We are now in the 31st day of his presidency. We have seen General Michael Flynn being forced out of office because he could not tell the truth about relations with Russia and could have been a victim of blackmail. That is a very worrying situation, and we know that allegations were made during the election campaign, and as a presidential candidate Trump made an appeal encouraging people to hack the accounts of Hillary Clinton. There may well be a case coming up that will show that the position of the President will be difficult to sustain if he himself is open to blackmail. We also know of the confrontation that took place during the election campaign involving President Obama, who warned that that eventuality was a likely outcome.
A higher percentage of constituents from Brighton signed the petition than from any other constituency and I am proud to represent them today. Many of them have raised not only Trump’s misogyny and racism but his contempt for basic climate science. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that someone who has shown such effrontery to basic climate science is another reason he should not come here on a state visit?
It is extraordinary that Trump, from the cavernous depths of his scientific ignorance, is prepared to challenge the conclusions of 97% of the world experts on this matter. He makes a bad science conspiracy theory conclusion when, apart from the nuclear issue, climate change is the most important issue of our time.
On the nuclear issue, Trump is almost unique in that he believes in nuclear proliferation. He is trying to persuade countries such as South Korea and Japan to acquire their own nuclear weapons. We know that the danger of nuclear war exists not because of the malice of nations but because of the likelihood that it will come by accident—by human error, or by a technical failure similar to the one that happened when one of our missiles headed in the wrong direction towards the United States in a recent test. The more nations that have nuclear weapons, the more likely it is that that problem will emerge and we could be plunged into a nuclear war.
The question that the petitioners put as a main point is the situation as far as Her Majesty is concerned. A former permanent secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Ricketts, reacted to the invitation by arguing:
“There is no precedent for a US president paying a state visit to this country in their first year”
of office. He is quite right. He said:
“It would have been far wiser to wait to see what sort of president he would turn out to be before advising the Queen to invite him.”
The Queen has been put in a very difficult position, and for that reason alone we should consider this petition, and the Government should consider it, with a bit of humility, to decide what action should take place. They should change the invitation to one for a visit rather than one for a state visit.
The hon. Gentleman says that the Queen has been put in a difficult position. I know what a great fan of the monarch he is—indeed, he probably has weekly chats with her. What did she actually say to him to lead him to believe that she found the situation difficult?
Order. We are not dragging the monarch into this debate. All right, colleagues?
I am well aware of the Standing Orders on this matter, but I speak as someone with enormous regard for the Queen. She is my inspiration; she is my example. She is working at an age that is eight years beyond my age, and I will certainly not be so wimpish as to stand down while she continues with her heroic work at her age.
Our main concern is that we are in this position of surrealism, of an Orwellian world that is unfolding before us, where the theme that has been put forward by Trump is that lies are the truth, good is bad, war is peace and fantasy is fact. We see that with the figure of the Trump Big Brother, who is there, ever-present seven days a week and 24 hours a day, preaching from his one source of news—the only voice of truth.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although the proposed ban is clearly completely absurd, there is something quite refreshing about a politician actually doing what they said they would do before they were elected? The ban is ridiculous, but it is a reaction to the chaos caused in the middle east by previous generations of politicians, which in my view is far worse than anything that Trump has done, and for which many of the people in this Chamber voted. Where is the hon. Gentleman’s respect for the will of the American people?
The will of the American people has changed rapidly within the last seven days. The position now is—[Interruption.] Well, get the facts. The position today is that Trump’s standing is at minus 18, which is precisely the level of support held by Richard Nixon on the day that he resigned his presidency. Trump is at rock bottom. He is the least popular American President ever in this country—hon. Members can go through the figures—and rightly has a low level of approval.
What we are doing, and what this debate is doing, is taking notice of what the public say. We will not be in a position where we ignore public opinion or where we seem insensitive to democratic decisions. That was the reason why many of us, with heavy hearts, voted for article 50 last week. We cannot allow, as happened in America, that gulf to appear in this country between politicians and what is seen as public opinion. That led to the election of Trump, and if we ignore what is being said in petitions and do not take action, the public will greet us with the same cynicism, see us as distant and look to elect non-politicians.
The great overarching topic on Brexit and on this issue is that we must maintain respect for politicians, and we must not see an increase in the divisions and in the lack of trust that has existed in this country. During the expenses scandal, our reputation in this House was at rock bottom; now it is subterranean. We have got to work to change it. Andrew Rawnsley, a very distinguished journalist, has said:
“Some ministers mutter that the big mistake was to issue the invitation to make an early state visit to Britain, a notion conceived as a way of flattering his colossal vanities. At the very least, it would have been prudent to wait before rolling the royal red carpet. Pimping out the Queen for Donald Trump. This, apparently, is what they meant by getting our sovereignty back.”
Those are the words of Andrew Rawnsley, which I am quoting.
On a point of order, Mr Walker. I do not think it is in order to refer to pimping out our sovereign, even if someone is quoting a journalist, however distinguished.
I am sure that is not what the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) meant. What he did mean, when he talked to me a few moments ago, was that he would speak for only 15 minutes. Can we get to the wind-up please, Mr Flynn?
Yes, fine, Mr Walker. The wind-up is a simple one. This is a great chance to be here and to start off this debate, but I know there are many people who also have contributions to make on the subject.
We are in a position unlike any faced by any previous Parliament, whereby a person of a unique personality is running the United States. There are great dangers in attempting to give him the best accolade we can offer anyone—a state visit—which, as I have said, has been offered only twice before. That would be terribly wrong, because it would make it appear that the British Parliament, the British nation and the British sovereign approve of the acts of Donald J. Trump.
Order. I call Nigel Evans. There is a five-minute time limit.
Thank you very much, Mr Walker. It is a delight to be under your chairmanship.
I suppose 2016 was a seismic year in many ways. For those of us in the Chamber who actually believe in democracy, I did not actually realise that there were so many different interpretations of it. We have seen that in the last week. In 2015, we had the election of a Conservative Government, which clearly hit a lot of people hard, and then we had Brexit, with which people are coming to terms or not in their own way. We then had the election of Donald Trump.
I advise anyone who is interested to go to YouTube and find the “Newsnight” video that shows the leading lights of the United States of America, from Nancy Pelosi and George Clooney to Harry Reid and others, all saying that there is no chance that this man will ever become President of the United States, interspersed with footage of the inauguration of Donald John Trump. They sneer when they say it. Why? Right at the end, the video says: “The United States has a new President. His name is Donald John Trump”. To those people who are finding it difficult to come to terms with Brexit, I say that we are leaving the European Union. That is what the people decided. To those who are finding it difficult to understand that the American people voted for Donald Trump, I say get over it, because he is President of the United States.
We must all ask ourselves why people felt so left behind that they made the democratic decisions they did. Some of us cannot understand some of those decisions. How could people possibly vote for Brexit? How could they possibly vote for Donald Trump? The fact is that the people have done so. They were the forgotten people. Just as we have forgotten people in the United Kingdom, there are forgotten people in the United States of America. They are the ones who packed that stadium on Saturday to cheer Donald Trump after his first month in the presidency, because they like what he says. We might not like some of the things he says. I certainly do not like some of what he has said in the past, but I respect the fact that he is now delivering the platform on which he stood. He will go down in history as the only politician roundly condemned for delivering on his promises. I know this is a peculiar thing in the politics we are used to here—politicians standing up for something and delivering—but that is what Trump is doing.
We can all go back and talk to the people we know in our own little echo chambers—all we hear are the same things—but the fact is that 61 million people voted for Donald Trump. When we stand up in this country and condemn him for being racist—I have seen no evidence of his being racist—or attack him in an unseemly way, we are attacking the American people and the 61 million who voted for Donald Trump. If they wanted more of the same or the usual stuff, it was on the ballot paper, but they decided, by a majority of states in the electoral college as it works, that they wanted Donald Trump.
My hon. Friend keeps talking about the 63 million people who voted for Donald Trump, but people forget that Hillary Clinton got nearly 66 million votes.
I absolutely agree. She piled the votes up in liberal California and liberal New York and the east coast, but that is not how the system works. My right hon. Friend is an expert in American politics and he knows how it works. The fact is that that is part of the checks and balances. Donald Trump knew how it worked. It was the people in the middle of America who felt left behind—they were referred to as the deplorables. They felt left behind by Administration after Administration, irrespective of colour, and decided to put Donald Trump in.
We have limited time, but one thing I will say is that I hope people will condemn the trolling of Barron Trump and Melania Trump. We talk about sexism and racism. The racism that Melania Trump has had to put up with since Donald Trump became President is appalling. She read the Lord’s prayer on Saturday in Florida, and the number of people who had a go at her for doing it and for the fact that she is from Slovenia and does not have an American accent is appalling. Let us hear a bit of parity.
I do not want this House to be brought into disrepute, as the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) said, regarding double standards. We can refer to all the things about Donald Trump, as some people have, even though he was democratically elected. Xi Jinping was here last year. Where were the demonstrations then? How many votes did Xi Jinping get? How many votes? We had a state visit from a Chinese leader 10 years after Tiananmen Square and there have been a lot of other state visits over the years. It is double standards. It is simply because people in this room, and perhaps in this country, cannot understand why the people voted for Donald Trump, and why people voted for Brexit. Until they understand that, I am afraid there will be more of the same. The people who feel left behind have spoken, and they have voted for Donald John Trump.
When members of the public have spent a long time thinking about an issue and calling for a debate, I would hope that some of us might try to be above party politics. This debate cuts to the heart of the nature of our democracy and of how we honour and celebrate other countries, which is why it is important to reflect on whether it is right, after seven days, that Donald Trump be afforded a full state visit.
I am a great friend of the United States. My father is buried in the United States. I studied in the United States. I worked in the United States. I have visited America more times than I have visited France; it is a country I love tremendously. I suspect that all of us in the Chamber are well aware of the British people’s deep connection with and affection for America and its people, but we are also aware of the challenges that exist in that country and the contentious manner of the election that led to Donald Trump’s becoming President. One would expect, I think, the leader of the free world to come to Britain, but the issue is about the terms and the basis on which that is done. An official visit might have been appropriate, but to afford this man, after seven days, a state visit is why so many people have petitioned.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not give way; I have only five minutes.
I am here because I want to remind the Chamber about the path that America has taken and about the contribution of African Americans in the United States. Many African Americans there are sitting at home in fear. They are concerned about a President who has had the support of the Ku Klux Klan. They are concerned about a President who has welcomed white supremacists—a term we had almost hoped would fall into history—into his close inner circle. They look at events such as Black History Month. Think about how our own Prime Ministers of different political stripes respond to such things and the sort of statements they make, and look at what Donald Trump said and how he made the event all about himself. Seven days, and he gets the full panoply of the state. Really?
I think of my five-year-old daughter when I reflect on a man who considers it okay to go and “grab pussy”, a man who considers it okay to be misogynistic towards the woman he is running against. Frankly, I cannot imagine a leader of this country, of whatever political stripe, behaving in that manner. People are offended and concerned that Britain should abandon all its principles and afford this man a state visit after seven days. Really? And why? Is this great country so desperate for a trade deal that we would throw all of our own history out of the window? We did not do it for Kennedy, Truman or Reagan, but to this man, after seven days, we say, “Please come and we will lay on everything because we are so desperate for your company”. I think this country is greater than that. I think my children deserve better than that. I think my daughter deserves better than that. I am ashamed, frankly, that it has come to this. We should think very carefully about a President whose attitude towards the press is, as we are finding out, abhorrent. We should think very carefully about a President who has said the things he has said. He has put so many people in fear through his statements. For that reason, we should not afford him a state visit.
Having been born at the mid-point of the 20th century, I think it is appropriate to look at what happened in Anglo-American relations and European-American relations before and after the 1950s. Before the 1950s, we had two opportunities for a world war, and both times a world war took place. From the 1950s onwards, we had one opportunity for another world war, and that world war did not take place.
We can all have theories about why there were world wars between 1914 and 1918 and between 1939 and 1945 and why the cold war did not become world war three. For what it is worth, I will give my theory. In 1914, it was possible for an aggressor to think it could pick off a small state such as Belgium without triggering a conflict from day one with the United States of America. In 1939, it was possible for an aggressor to think it could pick off a small state such as Poland without triggering a world war with the United States from day one. However, from the signing of the NATO treaty in 1949 onwards, it was no longer possible for any aggressor to think it could launch an attack against any European or non-European NATO member state without immediately being at war with the world’s greatest superpower. For me, that is the single most important consideration.
This debate ought to be about more than the personal qualities of any individual. I would like people to ask themselves this as a matter of conscience: if they knew that it would make a significant difference to bringing on side a new President of the United States of America so that the policies that prevented a conflagration on that scale continue—given he is in some doubt about continuing the alliance that prevented world war three and is our best guarantee of world war three not breaking out in the 21st century—do they really think it is more important to berate him, castigate him and encourage him to retreat into some sort of bunker, rather than to do what the Prime Minister did, perhaps more literally than any of us expected, and take him by the hand to try to lead him down the paths of righteousness? I have no doubt at all about the matter.
What really matters to the future of Europe is that the transatlantic alliance continues and prospers. There is every prospect of that happening provided that we reach out to this inexperienced individual and try to persuade him—there is every chance of persuading him —to continue with the policy pursued by his predecessors.
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. It is right and proper that we are debating the issue, but given his views, why does he support Mr Speaker saying that Trump should not come here? There is a case for that, but it is incongruent with the argument my right hon. Friend is making.
I am pleased to say that this is a debate about President Trump and whether he should come here. I believe that it is entirely right that he should come here. Therefore, issues about any extraneous matters are matters for debate perhaps at another time in another place, but not here or now.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but on what basis does he think giving President Trump a state visit will have the effect he believes? We have already told him he can have one, and just this weekend we hear him again talking about walking away from NATO.
I am not at all aware that he has talked about walking away from NATO. On the contrary, he has made two criticisms of NATO. One is that he believes that NATO has adapted insufficiently to meet the threat of international terrorism and is too solely focused on state-versus-state confrontation. The other criticism he has made is—if it is an extreme view, it is one shared by the Defence Select Committee—that countries are not spending enough on defence. He has rightly pointed out, as has his Secretary of Defence, that only five out of 28 NATO countries are paying even the 2% of GDP—which is not a target, but a minimum guideline. The failure of NATO countries to pay to protect themselves has been remarked upon time and again to no effect.
I finish with a point that may be strange to relate, but stranger things have happened in history: it may be that the only way to get NATO countries to pay up what they should in order to get the huge advantage of the American defence contribution—they spend 3.5% of their much larger GDP while so many of our NATO fellow member countries do not spend even 2% of their much smaller GDPs—is Donald Trump’s threat. If that is so, Donald Trump, ironically, may end up being the saviour of NATO, not its nemesis.
I am particularly pleased to be able to attend a debate opened at length by the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn). In fact, hearing him speak at length is justification in itself for the petitions process. I particularly enjoyed his putdown of the whippersnappers on the Tory Benches who are paying insufficient regard to the experience of the hon. Gentleman and Her Majesty the Queen. I thought that was one of the highlights of the debate thus far.
It is difficult to know whether to be appalled at the morality of the invitation or just astonished by its stupidity. If I may disagree with the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) for a second, the Prime Minister’s holding-hands-across-the-ocean visit would be difficult to match as an example of fawning subservience, but to do it in the name of shared values was stomach-churning. What exactly are the shared values that this House and this country would hope to have with President Trump? Exemplifying what shared values are is a process that is fraught with danger, but the Prime Minister tried it when she was Home Secretary. She said that they were:
“Things like democracy…a belief in the rule of law, a belief in tolerance for other people, equality, an acceptance of other people’s faiths and religions.”
Which of those values, as outlined by the Prime Minister, has President Trump exemplified in his first 30 days in office?
Given President Trump’s remarks about torture, his misogynistic stance against women and his stance against Muslims, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that associating with the President in the form of a state visit will do huge amounts of damage to the Queen and to our monarchy, which is respected and revered around the world? The Government should have a Government-to-Government visit and leave Her Majesty out of this.
I do agree. Also, I note that, according to one newspaper report, Trump’s acolytes have started to choose which members of the royal family they would meet on a state visit. It said he was not going to meet Prince Charles in case the conversation turned to climate change. Somebody who has been accorded the privilege of a state visit picking and choosing which members of the royal family to meet is a world first.
When the right hon. Gentleman met Donald Trump and welcomed him to Scotland in 2006, did he express the same views?
I have actually met Donald Trump more than once, which gives me an advantage over, I think, every other Member in the Chamber. I have also negotiated with Donald Trump, which perhaps gives me an additional advantage, to instruct the hon. Gentleman. We should remember that President Trump is not a stupid man. The belief that he has forgotten what the Prime Minister or her supporting staff said about him when he was a candidate is nonsensical, and the Foreign Secretary said he would not go to New York in case he was confused with him. To believe that Donald Trump has forgotten those things is to seriously underrate the man’s intelligence. To paraphrase P. G. Wodehouse, it is not difficult to tell the difference between a ray of sunshine and Donald Trump with a grievance. I know about that from my experience of the American President, which brings me to the act of stupidity involved in the invitation.
Even when people are in a weak negotiating position, as the UK is at the moment thanks to the nonsensical decision to invoke article 50 without having at least some idea of where the negotiations will end up—I see Brexiteers shaking their heads, but I was quoting almost exactly from the Vote Leave website, which said that doing that would be like putting a gun to our own head. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Government have chosen to do. To put ourselves in a weak negotiating position and then advertise it so blatantly to President Trump, as the Prime Minister managed to do, is a recipe for total and utter disaster. From my experience of negotiating with Donald Trump, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we should never, ever do it from a weak position, because the result will be total disaster.
Like the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is relatively new to his office, yet he has demonstrated how to pursue a business relationship while keeping Canada’s integrity intact. The Prime Minister should take note and rescind the state visit before any more embarrassment and division is caused in this country.
To allow this process to be the pretext for another assault on Mr Speaker—this has already been mentioned in the debate, Mr Walker—is beyond madness. This new gunpowder plot will fizzle out as surely as the last one did. What we should demand from Mr Speaker is fairness to all parts of the House, the ability for all people to be heard—
Order. Mr Salmond, we are not having a debate about Mr Speaker, and that goes for all Members. You have made your point. Please return to the substance of the debate, which is Mr Trump’s visit.
Mr Walker, I was replying to a point that you allowed to be made in the debate earlier. I will simply state my opinion that parties in this House will not allow Mr Speaker to be removed on this issue. I think that is perfectly in order, sir.
On the point about debasing the shared values that we are meant to have with the United States of America—the point was well made by the hon. the Member for Newport West that in 30 days the President has managed to achieve a record low in the Gallup ratings—the United States of America has not been invited on a state visit. The state visit invitation is to President Trump the individual. To confuse the two is a serious mistake by hon. Members and others who support the offer. I speak from my experience of negotiating with the man in saying that to do so from a position of weakness will not result in a face-saving, life-saving augmented trade deal. It will be a route to and a recipe for total disaster for this country. The state visit invitation should be rescinded before any further damage is caused.
It is a pleasure to serve under your highly tuned chairmanship, Mr Walker. I do not normally speak on foreign policy matters, but I feel duty-bound to speak because so many of my constituents have signed the petition. I have some sympathy with them. They are entitled to sign the petition against the state visit. As has been said, some of the things that Donald Trump has said are extremely offensive, but what concerns me is the points of substance, such as the ambiguity about NATO. That is what we should be worried about.
What we are debating here is UK foreign policy, which is best served by following the national interest, not through gestures or knee-jerk reactions. We need calm, effective diplomacy done in the old-fashioned way, often behind the scenes. We need to work towards a long-term strategy, rather than something redolent of student politics and gestures that get us nowhere. We need to focus on the strategic points, to which there are two parts. The first is the recognition that we need to be as close to the US Administration as possible. If we have concerns—hon. Members clearly have concerns about President Trump—we should be trying to shape his Administration rather than rescinding an offer that was sent and accepted in good faith.
My second point on strategy is to understand who wins if we rescind the offer. We will gain nothing if we withdraw the offer. I can tell Members who will win—there is one man: Vladimir Putin. There will be smiles all round the Kremlin if we follow the suggestion in the petition, because the one thing it wants above all else is to divide the west. It wants the UK and the US to be divided. It does not want a strong transatlantic partnership. I am talking not just about our interest but the global interest in saying that we would be crackers to withdraw the invitation. In fact, I would offer a state visit to Vladimir Putin, as Tony Blair did, despite the fact that Russian Bear bombers are buzzing our airspace and the fact that the Russians have nuclear missiles pointed at us and pose a huge threat. That is precisely why we offer invitations—because we want to influence an Administration.
My hon. Friend is quite right that everyone wants us to influence the US Administration. Is he not buoyed up by the fact that Donald Trump has taken the opposite position to that of Obama, who came here during our referendum and told us that we would be at the back of the queue for a trade deal? He tried to influence our referendum, whereas Donald Trump has said that he wants to see us at the front of the queue for a trade deal.
The referendum is done and dusted, of course, and we have some interesting days ahead in the other place. I campaigned to remain in the EU, but when President Obama spoke about the referendum, it was a gift to the leave campaign. The issue today, however, is Donald Trump. As I said, I would invite Vladimir Putin for a state visit. For me, people can say offensive things and represent terrible values—Russia is not a serious democracy, and it has a terrible human rights record—but our foreign policy is about the national interest of the United Kingdom. That means being as strong as possible and having as much influence as possible on countries that are the major global players. I conclude by saying we will serve this country best by sticking to the invitation we have made instead of making ourselves a laughing stock to the countries that matter.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) for opening the debate on the two petitions. I am absolutely delighted that nearly 4,000 of my constituents signed the petition that argued that Donald Trump should not be given a state visit. They are a part of the 1.8 million who signed across the country. It tallies with the concerns raised with me in person in recent weeks. I have had people contact me directly about the matter. Ultimately, I speak for my constituents and I know where they firmly stand.
I love America and Americans. I have travelled to 25 of the 50 states. My grandfather was an American GI who came here in 1944 to help us fight the Nazis. We do not know much about him, but he came over here. I have walked with Government Members on the beaches of Normandy and along Omaha beach and other places where many Americans sacrificed their lives in the service of the freedoms of Europe and our country.
We should have contact with any American Administration. Much as I disagreed fundamentally with the policies and actions of President George W. Bush, I was deeply disappointed that that turned for many into a wider strand of anti-Americanism and anger towards America and Americans. In fact, America at its greatest is a place that espouses the very best of liberty and equality. At its best it has an optimistic Government that allows all people to have freedom. It allows freedom in the press and in the courts, and allows the exercise of democracy at state, local and federal level. It is for that reason that I feel deeply concerned and frightened when I see the very principles on which the founding fathers developed the constitution being called into question by a President. Indeed, he has done so in recent days with attacks on the press, the judiciary, religious freedoms and other parts of the Government that disagree with him. That is what I am most worried and fearful about, and I think we are right to be so.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is as much about our Prime Minister as about the American President, and that this apparent cosying-up to people with questionable values or records—not only Trump but Erdogan the day after and Netanyahu recently—has compromised our ability to be a critical friend?
It is not an easy job to be Prime Minister and to deal with Governments. The nature and difficulties of diplomacy mean that we often have to have contact, for wider national and global interests, with people with whom we fundamentally disagree, but herein lies the fundamental point. This is not about whether Donald Trump should be banned from coming to this country or whether our Government should have contact with him—indeed, it is absolutely right that the Prime Minister meets the President to discuss matters of mutual interest. We choose whom we honour, the way in which we honour them and the way in which we negotiate. I note the comments of the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond): we choose how we engage. Prime Minister Trudeau has shown a very different way of dealing with President Trump and has maintained his integrity while retaining contact.
The fundamental issue is that we have rushed into offering the Palace, the Mall, the razzmatazz, the champagne and the red carpet. Even if one were the ultimate pragmatist for whom the matters of equality or of standing against torture, racism and sexism do not matter, giving it all up in week 1 on a plate with no questions asked would not be a sensible negotiating strategy. How can that make sense to anybody—even those who argue that we should have a strong relationship with the United States?
Obama was invited here—people should not forget that he was the first Afro-American President—but he stood for something totally different. Donald Trump so far does not seem to share our values, so we should have waited at least two years to see how his presidency pans out before we came to a judgment.
Indeed. That is why I have spoken out so strongly on using the Palace of Westminster, and particularly Westminster Hall, given that that is where President Mandela and President Obama addressed us, where Pope Benedict came and where Churchill lay in state. It is a rare and special honour, and I am absolutely delighted that this is the most signed petition of this Session and that it has support from all parts of the House.
We need to look at the issue of state visits again. Many people have rightly pointed out whom we have offered state visits to in the past and asked whether that was right. There were protests when President Xi was here, and I strongly disagree with much of the way we have fawned over some of the monarchies in the Gulf. That does not mean we should not have diplomatic relations and strong relationships with them, but I am concerned about the way we seem to have turned a blind eye to a whole series of issues. We need to look very carefully at how we choose to use what ultimately is a significant amount of taxpayers’ money, and at the categories and types of visits we offer and how we offer them. Many of us question whether Aung San Suu Kyi should have addressed us, given some of the concerns we have about the Burmese Government’s policies at present. We can have great hindsight, but just because we have got things wrong in the past does not mean we should not get things right in the future.
We have a special responsibility when it comes to the special relationship with our greatest ally and friend. We cannot accept the denigration of the free press, the judiciary, women and religious minorities, the banning of refugees and the advocacy of torture as the new normal. It would not be acceptable from any country, and it is certainly not acceptable from our greatest ally and one of the countries that has frequently stood up for the values of liberty, equality, democracy and the rights and equality of all before the law. That is why we have a special responsibility in this House to speak out.
Ultimately, I have great faith in the way the American constitution was set up. In 1788, James Madison said:
“An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one…in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.”
We, too, should check and balance our ally, but offering up a state visit and all these honours in week 1 of Donald Trump’s already turbulent presidency is not the way to do it.
I guess I should start by declaring an interest: not simply do I have a deep antipathy towards President Trump, but I was prepared to more than just talk about it and I spent a considerable amount of time last year working for Hillary Clinton on her presidential campaign in New Hampshire, Wisconsin and South Carolina. I believed, as President Obama did during the 2016 campaign, that she was the most qualified candidate to run for President in the 20th century. As every day goes by—not least the past seven days—I am deeply grieved to see the opportunity that America sadly passed up for the person it chose, but we are where we are. Hillary Clinton got 2.8 million more votes, but the Americans elect their President not through who gets the most votes but through the electoral college. Those are the rules, and there is no point crying over spilled milk.
I will not rehearse all the reasons why any reasonable person should have significant doubts about Donald Trump, because they are sadly too well known. America has been our greatest ally for a considerable time: it stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us in our hour of need, as we did in its hour of need, particularly during 9/11, so it is to my mind foolish to allow our personal views and assessments of the more grotesque characteristics or behaviour of an individual to blur what is in Britain’s national interest. I believe it is in Britain’s national interest to continue the special relationship, as we did under most Prime Ministers since the second world war, with the possible exception of Sir Edward Heath.
I know the right hon. Gentleman’s deep affection for the United States—indeed, I have been with him at Democratic conventions in the past—but is the natural conclusion of his argument that the more offensive the American President and the more concerned we are as a nation about the person who has been elected, the quicker we should rush to give them a state visit? Is this debate really about the nature of how Donald Trump should come to this country?
If the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will get on to the timing. He makes a valid point.
Regardless of what we think of Donald Trump as a man, I believe it is in our national interest to ensure we continue to be a candid friend to the United States. We should be respected by the United States and have the ability to talk to it candidly and explain when we believe it is getting it wrong or could be doing it better. We should ensure that it moderates its views to something more in keeping with what we believe is dignified and the correct way to behave. We cannot do that if we totally ignore the United States, write off the presidency and say, “The man is dreadful, so we shall have nothing to do with him.” We would become isolated and less influential, and that would not be in our national interest.
A number of hon. Members during the debate and outside the Chamber have questioned the timing. Frankly, it does not matter when one issues an invitation if one is trying to protect and develop our national interest. If we do it seven days into a presidency, we will be criticised; if we do it in 2020, we will be criticised for playing around with the American electoral system and helping the man in his presumed re-election bid.
In delaying the invitation for a state visit, we would at least have the advantage of knowing the President will still be there.
The right hon. Gentleman may be better at looking into a crystal ball than I am. None of us, frankly, can predict what will happen next week, let alone next year, the year after or the year after that. He might be right, but I agree with him that the beginning has not been auspicious in any shape or form. It is a bit like the Bible—one always admires a sinner who repents—and we will have to see whether the people around President Trump are able to moderate and guide him, although I am not convinced that they will be as successful as others might be.
That, however, is not the point. The point is that, whenever the invitation is extended, or whenever a visit takes place, there will be criticism by those who wish to criticise. We have to rise above that. We have to look at what will be helpful for Britain and its future policy and development. It is a no-brainer that working closely with the United States is far more important for this country, in particular as we begin negotiations and the exit from the European Union in two or two and a half years’ time. We cannot afford to be isolated or to ignore our friends to stand alone, thinking that we will thereby ensure that everything works out all right, because more often than not it will not.
Loyalty has always been a key mark of this country, whether under a Conservative or a Labour Prime Minister. Some would argue that in the past at times we have been too loyal. I will not intrude on the grief with regard to 2001 to about 2006, but that was a difficult time and perhaps we got it wrong in how we talked as a candid friend to the previous-but-one President. We all learn from our mistakes, however, and I believe that we have the opportunity, by giving respect to the institution of the presidency of the United States from the start, to continue to work with the United States. That will pay benefits to this country and to America, and it is the right thing to do. The state visit should go ahead, although I have to say—this may come as a surprise to some—I agree with Mr Speaker that there should not be an address in Westminster Hall to a joint session of Parliament.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker.
The subject feels like one we have debated many times since Donald Trump was inaugurated a month ago today. I take the opportunity to thank every single one of my constituents who has used the petition to have their voice heard. Just over 3,500 of them have signed the e-petition on preventing Donald Trump’s state visit, which amounts to nearly 60 people out of every 1,000 registered voters in Bradford West.
What we have seen in the past 31 days has in many ways been chilling, with the executive orders that have dominated Donald Trump’s first weeks in the White House being frightening. Many of us are asking where the slippery slope really leads. To take only one of the groups of people where he has sought to divide—those of the Muslim faith, not necessarily distinct to one country or another—his rhetoric has been so broad that I personally, as a Muslim, feel attacked and misrepresented. No doubt many of my constituents, who daily make a wonderful contribution to this country, feel the same. We have to take every opportunity to show that his negativity and divisive messages will not divide us and, just as importantly, will not define us.
British Muslims make an invaluable contribution to the whole of the UK in all forms and walks of life, from doctors to teachers and from business owners to professionals, adding immense cultural value as part of the rich fabric of modern British life. To allow Trump the space to deride and divide a group that plays such a huge role in our society would be a shame on us all. A 2013 report by the Muslim Council of Britain put an economic value on British Muslims’ contribution to the UK—an estimated £31 billion-plus—and stated that as a group they have more than £20.5 billion in spending power. In 2013 in London alone, 13,400 Muslim-owned businesses created more than 70,000 jobs. That is a glimpse of the real impact that Muslims have on this country and that is how Muslims should be portrayed, not in the fearful, racist, bigoted views of someone who has used fear to win votes.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is deeply saddening and shameful that colleagues who are defending the state visit do not recognise the serious concerns expressed particularly by Muslims, but also by many other communities, about the dangers of the rhetoric of Donald Trump? It is time that those colleagues spoke out against that kind of hostility, which is deeply divisive. It is time for them to address the issue, instead of making excuses and being apologists for his hatred.
I thank my hon. Friend for making those valid points, with which I concur absolutely.
I happily take up the challenge of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali). Donald Trump’s attitude to Muslims is an outrage, and what is most outrageous is the total lack of evidence for his actions. All of the deaths caused by terrorists on US soil since 9/11 have been caused by US citizens or residents, and even the 9/11 attacks were made by people from outside the US but from none of the seven countries. The order was not only prejudiced, but totally lacked any evidence.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making those very valid points.
Last year, in this very Chamber when we first debated a potential ban on Trump visiting the UK, I went on public record to say that I wanted him to come, because I wanted him to visit Bradford West. I invited him out for a curry and I wanted him to see the contribution that Muslims make to this country and to my constituency. I wanted him to meet real Muslims, not the ones he has invented for his own ends. I wanted him to walk down the street and meet people such as Chief Superintendent Mabs Hussain, who was born in my constituency. I wanted to take him to schools such as Iqra Primary School to meet a Muslim headteacher. I wanted him to visit health professionals in places such as Sahara and Lister pharmacies, and to see Muslims on the frontline in our healthcare services.
I also wanted Donald Trump to see some of the tremendous businesses in my constituency that are run by Muslims, providing jobs and growth, such as Lala’s, EnKahnz, MyLahore and many others. I wanted to show the world the cultural impact of Muslims in my constituency through events such as the amazing Bradford literature festival that is run by two extraordinary Muslim women, or the annual world curry festival organised by a Muslim man. But to do so now, now that he is President, would only reinforce and condone his actions and his divisive, racist and sexist messages.
Sadly, that is what Donald Trump represents at this moment, which flies in the face of everything we stand for and everything we thought we shared. We cannot support what he is doing by offering him legitimacy. During the debate we have touched on double standards, but the difference in our conversation is that the British people are aware of the human rights violations or the misogyny in China, for example, when we have a state visit from its President. However, we do not look to China for its record, for its advice and support on human rights issues, or for how to treat women, but we do look to America. We look to the United States of America, the leader of the free world, to support us in those shared values. The new President does not represent those shared values that belong to all of us, including this House. Even my children have seen the movies showing women throwing themselves on the cobbles outside this building to get the right to vote in this country, and we saw what happened with the civil rights movement.
When I spoke about this subject in the main Chamber, I talked about the first three steps to genocide, as defined in a booklet by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. We are already on step three. The right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) says that we might stop world war three, but what do we actually contribute by allowing President Trump to continue using rhetoric that divides people and tells us that Muslims are the enemy within? As a Muslim in this House, I am not an enemy of western democracy; I am part of western democracy. I fought really hard to be elected. I fought against bigotry, sexism and the patriarchy to earn my place in this House. By allowing Donald Trump a state visit and bringing out the china crockery and the red carpet, we endorse all those things that I fought hard against and say, “Do you know what? It’s okay.” I give my heartfelt thanks to the millions of people who signed the petition and I really hope that we do not honour this President.
Thank you, Mr Walker, for the invitation to take part in this debate, which the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) opened so energetically. He referred to our “beleaguered” Prime Minister. I look forward to the authority that she exerts when she is not quite so beleaguered. I am still puzzling about what he meant by “protozoan”. I will come back to the power exercised by the President, but first we should take a reality check. An invitation has been issued in the name of Her Majesty, and if we wanted to find a way of embarrassing her, withdrawing that invitation would be the quickest way about it. We are left in a situation where the formal word of Her Majesty, but also that of the United Kingdom, is engaged.
Let us get to the realpolitik behind this. It is very likely that opening up the possibility of an invitation for a state visit secured our Prime Minister the first call on the newly elected President of the United States. During her visit, she got the incredibly important assurance about NATO that was so expertly referred to by the Chairman of the Defence Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis).
I heard the hon. Gentleman being interviewed on Radio Scotland this morning. He said then what he has just said: that it was very likely that the Prime Minister had used the offer of a state visit to secure the first visit to Trump. Can he confirm his source for that statement?
I am simply using my own assessment and my experience from my own career of how such matters are arranged to say what might have happened. I am happy to confirm that I have no first-hand evidence of the discussions; I merely use my experience to say what might have happened. However, the Prime Minister secured that first visit. She secured the undertaking about NATO, which is immensely important to Europe’s security; she got a reaffirmation of the special relationship by being the first foreign leader to visit President Trump; and, the day before meeting the President, she gave a spectacularly successful address to the Republican caucus in Philadelphia.
We must understand what is going on. We are dealing with the first non-politician and the first non-serviceman to be elected President. He is definitively different. Dangling a state visit in front of a half-Scottish President of the United States, whose mother had an immense attachment to that country, was an exercise in pressing the right buttons to engage him and a successful use of the United Kingdom’s soft power.
The Prime Minister secured the undertaking about NATO, but let us also understand the checks and balances that this President will have to operate under. First, he will need to operate under the checks and balances that come from Congress, and the Republican caucus in Congress will be immensely important in that. For our Prime Minister to have secured a place where she has an opportunity, in effect, to put our case, which may be aligned with that of the State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA, to the White House—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will if the right hon. Gentleman is brief, because his intervention will come out of injury time.
The hon. Gentleman continues seriously to underrate President Trump. The idea that this President will have things determined by anything other than his own interests and what he perceives the American interest to be is a mistake of such naivety—naivety that explains the fact that he managed to get into the White House in the first place.
I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to what is actually happening. This President, who comes from an area where he was not disciplined in the requirements of our profession or those of the services, is issuing undisciplined statements. What has he had to say about torture? He has said that he will concede his judgment to that of his Defence Secretary. I was told cheerfully by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender friends of mine that he was about to rescind employment protection for LGBT people in the United States. He did not, as it happens. Who won out in the row between his national security adviser and his vice-president? His vice-president. The immigration ban is being overturned by the judges—another element of the separation of powers in the United States. We are seeing this Administration develop following the extraordinary and unprecedented election of this individual to the presidency.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me if I do not? I am out of injury time.
The point I am making is that these are early days, and the need for a disciplined Administration is beginning to crowd in on this President. We will see how things develop, but it is incredibly important that our Prime Minister secured the first visit of a foreign leader to the White House.
The truth is that we need to calm and take the hype out of this debate—not just the debate in this Chamber but, frankly, the national debate. The invitation has been issued. I do not think that it should or could properly be rescinded, so there is the possibility that it will be taken up this year. I think that would be a mistake. We need to point out that 2020 will be the 400th anniversary of one of the most remarkable events in British-American history: the pilgrim fathers’ settlement. That is incredibly important in the United States, and it would be an utterly appropriate moment to be marked by a state visit to the United Kingdom by whoever is the US Head of State at that time. We should focus the Administration’s attention on that opportunity. A Head of Government visit this year would be entirely appropriate. If we do not take the hype out of this debate, given the number of people who signed the petition, there is every possibility that the President’s visit will become a rallying point for everyone who is unhappy with the direction of American policy or British policy, or anything else, and the poor old commissioner of the Met will be left with a rather significant public order issue to manage.
There is an opportunity to look forward and celebrate a great anniversary in British-American relations, and extract ourselves from the practical difficulty of the invitation having been issued. But issuing that invitation secured a reaffirmation of the special relationship, a commitment by the President of the United States to NATO—that was reinforced in Europe this weekend by senior members of his Administration—and an opportunity for us to reinforce the voices in the White House of the State Department, the Republican caucus, the Pentagon and the CIA, and that was infinitely the right thing to do.
Order. A number of colleagues have intervened who have already spoken. I know that this is a debate, but if they desist from intervening, we may get everyone from their own parties in.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I am pleased to speak on behalf of the thousands of my constituents who signed the petition objecting to Donald Trump being invited to the UK for a state visit, as well as the large number who contacted me to say that they did not wish to sign that petition but strongly objected to a state visit.
Many of the people who contacted me said that they had never signed a petition before, but they felt so strongly that the invitation was wrong that they had done so. No wonder they were concerned. What on earth have things come to when the UK Government think for one second that it is appropriate to reward the disgraceful statements and actions of President Trump with a state visit and all the pomp, ceremony and fantoosherie of the British establishment?
It is hugely depressing to hear those on the Conservative Benches who support the state visit yet again telling us that it is important that we engage with President Trump because America is our friend. So it is, but that is why we should challenge this. President Trump’s Administration so far has been characterised by ignorance and prejudice, seeking to ban Muslims and deny refuge to people fleeing from war and persecution. That is what he said and that is what he has done, and that is simply racism. The Prime Minister has decided that she will take any friend she can get for her hard Tory Brexit, and to hang with the refugees, to hang with the Muslims and to hang with anyone who is different. To hang with our EU nationals, to hang with women and Mexicans, and to hang with people fleeing war and terror. That is what the plan for a state visit says.
Let us not kid ourselves. The UK Government, with their ever-reducing plans to help child refugees, have knowingly and deliberately cooried into this Islamophobic, misogynistic—and dangerously confused, if events in Sweden are anything to go by—leader of the free world, instead of, as one of my constituents said to me, having the balls to stand up and show some kind of moral backbone.
President Trump’s words and actions are horribly destructive for Muslims across the world. They absolutely will foster Islamophobia and racism. We have all heard about the nasty, insidious, creeping racism that has felt able to raise its ugly head—hate crime incidents are up 41% in England and Wales since the Brexit vote—and the state visit would ramp that up further, giving all those who feel the need to persecute other people the comfort they need, especially as they may now feel that it is rubber-stamped by this rudderless shambles of a UK Government.
SNP Members have grave concerns about the effect that will have on people living, working and studying in Scotland. Many Muslims are understandably upset and fearful, as are other groups. As the mother of mixed race children, I am upset and fearful for the future in a way I have never been before. This is a time of flux and uncertainty and dark clouds are gathering in many parts of the world. Our job here should be to shine a light and to stand tall. We should take the moral high ground and send a firm message to President Trump that this will never be acceptable and he needs to stop. Instead, the UK Government have rolled over to have their belly tickled. Shame on all involved if they do not rescind the invitation for a state visit now. It will never be in our name.
There are two ways in which those who agree that the state visit should go ahead can approach the debate. There is the argument along the lines of national self-interest, which is the relatively easy way, and there is the more difficult way: we have got to seek to understand what Mr Trump means to many people in America. I will start with the first. It seems obvious to me that great countries such as our own act in their own national self-interest, and they issue these invitations in order to further that self-interest.
Presumably, when we invited not one but two Presidents of China, we were prepared to overlook the fact that China is effectively a police state, that there is no freedom of expression, of movement or of association, and that there is outright religious persecution. In every single respect it is a state that does not share our values in any shape or form. Presumably, when we issued an invitation all those years ago to President Ceausescu and awarded him a knighthood, we felt it was in our national self-interest so to do. Indeed, we rescinded the award of the knighthood only on the day before he was executed by his own people.
The hon. Gentleman is making a valid point that there is not a great deal of consistency about the way in which we offer state visits, or for that matter the content of them. It was particularly useful when we offered one to the President of Colombia because that helped progress the peace process in Colombia. Would he not support the idea of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Procedure Committee doing a proper review of state visits so that we get it right for the future?
That is a perfectly valid point and I have no objection to it.
To continue the historical analogies, presumably when we invited President Mugabe, a racist homophobe, to have tea with the Queen, we were prepared to overlook his transgressions, and when we invited King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who presided over the ultimate misogynist state, presumably we felt that Saudi Arabia was an important ally of ours.
We have to be careful about what we wish for. Just think for a moment: if we listened to the petition—I accept that people have signed it in perfectly good faith, and it is a perfectly reasonable point of view—and accepted it and, as a result of the debate, we were to rescind the invitation, that would be catastrophic to our relationship with our closest ally. I will not labour that point, but surely my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has won the argument in the sense that our peace and security and the peace and security of the whole western world depends on our using influence with President Trump. I for one believe that our Prime Minister’s visit was an absolute triumph not only in furthering our national self-interest but by binding President Trump and his new Administration to NATO. We see the effects of that in terms of what the vice-president has been saying only this week. There is no doubt in my mind that it is in our national self-interest to accord respect and honour to our closest and greatest ally. Whether we like it or not, this man is the duly democratically elected leader of the free world.
To me, that is the easy argument to make, but I feel I have to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) in making what is probably a much more difficult and controversial argument. We had a debate a year ago on Mr Trump when speaker after speaker —even on the Conservative side—condemned him, saying he was outrageous. I was the only one who tried to understand the phenomenon and why people were supporting and voting for him. I made the point then, and will make it now, that it is unwise of us to try to transfer our own views and prejudices to the other side of the Atlantic. For instance, most people here think that I am on the far right of the political spectrum in this House, but here I am, a person who warmly supports gun control, who opposed the Iraq war and who relies entirely on the NHS. All of those things would make me an abomination in large parts of the Republican party. It is very foolish for us to lecture our conservative colleagues on the other side of the Atlantic about what is the right or improper nature of conservativism.
Mr Trump is not my sort of conservative—I have nothing in common with him—but let us look at some of his comments and the charge of misogyny. Of course, what he was reported as saying in a private conversation was horrible and ridiculous—I hope none of us would make those comments—but which one of us has not made some ridiculous sexual comment at some time in our past? [Hon. Members: “Me!”] Well, in private. Let he is without sin cast the first stone. He has apologised. That is not really a reason to withdraw an invitation.
I had better give way because someone is casting an aspersion.
I cast no aspersions, but is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that the comments made in public by Trump on a number of issues, including marriage equality for LGBT people, and his comments on sexual abuse and attacking women, which were made in private, recorded and then broadcast, are a legitimate perspective? Does he stand there and think it is acceptable to say in the Chamber and this House that that kind of position is acceptable?
I said precisely the opposite. As far as I know, I have never spoken like that and no friends of mine have ever spoken like that. I completely deplore it and find it ridiculous to speak like that in private. All I am saying is that most of us would be rather embarrassed if everything that we had ever said in private in our past was—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I have given way twice, so I think I had better get on now. I knew this would be a difficult argument. It is easy to dodge it, but I think it is only fair to make it.
As regards the argument of racism, I do not believe there is any proof that the travel ban is racist. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world and there is no question of a travel ban on Indonesia. All the travel ban countries are riven by civil war and the travel ban builds on work done by President Obama, so to accuse the new President of the United States of racism, misogyny and all the rest is overstating it.
I knew that these arguments would be difficult to make, but the fact is that 61 million American people voted for Mr Trump and support him, like it or not. Even if he fills people with rage, the fact is that he is there. He is the duly elected President of the United States. Our interests rely absolutely on trying to influence the man, and on bringing him over here to tie him to our point of view. He would never be elected in this country—his views would have no traction. He would never become the leader of the Conservative party in this country. None of us would campaign along the lines he has campaigned on. We all disagree fundamentally with many things he has said, but he is there. He is elected. We have to work with him. That is why it would be a disaster if the invitation were rescinded.
[Mr Andrew Turner in the Chair]
It will not come as a surprise to the House that I shall speak against a state visit for Donald Trump. Last night, discussing the debate, I began to think about how I am his worst nightmare—the daughter of a political asylum seeker, raised in a Muslim household and, perhaps worst of all, a woman with strong opinions. Somehow I do not think I will be on his Christmas card list this year. Joking aside, however, I recognise that he has been elected in the United States. The debate comes off the back of an independent election, but it is about the nature of our Government’s response to Donald Trump and whether we give a royal welcome to our country to an individual who has already made thousands of British people, including Members of the House, question whether they are still welcome in America.
I have two main reasons for speaking against granting a state visit to Donald Trump. First, what has he said and done—what has he said to the Prime Minister—to warrant a state visit? In my opinion a state visit is something to be granted, not expected. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) has already made the point that it is not something that happens because someone has been in their position for seven days. Barack Obama waited two and a half years before he was invited on a state visit. George W. Bush waited three years. Nixon and George Bush Senior were never given a state visit. My question is what Donald Trump has done. In my opinion, all he has done since he has been President is insult the press, champion economic protectionism and try to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Are those reasons to grant him a state visit to our country?
Secondly, a state visit is meant to be a celebratory event for people. However, millions of people have signed a petition to say they do not want Donald Trump to be given a state visit. Thousands have marched along Whitehall, in addition to the people across the country who say they would not welcome it. If we listen carefully we can hear the thousands of people outside the House right now, saying they do not want Donald Trump to come to this country on a royal state visit. We have a duty to listen to those people and give them a voice. If people from the Trump Administration are listening, I would say to them that that is not fake news. The people protesting outside are not alternative facts. The protests are real ones, by British people who do not want to give him a royal visit.
I disagree with the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns), who said that it is not a question of timing. For me, it is. In the post-Brexit era there are deep divisions in the community and we have a duty to heal them, not to invite figures like Donald Trump so that he can cause more. At a time when we are trying to figure out whether the immigration status of British nationals is secure in European countries, and whether European nationals who have lived here for years can stay here, we should not invite someone whose immigration measures are so divisive and contradictory. It sends the wrong message to the rest of the world. I ask Conservative hon. Members: how in all good conscience can they really lay out the red carpet for someone who has talked about grabbing women by the pussy? How can they really lay out the red carpet for someone who has insulted the LGBT community, branded Mexicans as rapists and murderers, and insulted Jewish and disabled people? Is that what we want to do?
My final point—I do not have much time—is that future generations will judge us on what we are doing in telling Donald Trump to come here and pay us a visit. British people value respect and tolerance. We have respect for each other. If we do not speak up in the face of injustice and challenge bigotry, we are not serving ourselves. We should not invite him to preach hatred and spread his bigotry, his misogyny and his division.
This issue has resulted in some extremely passionate speeches on both sides of the argument. Many of my constituents will have signed the petition against the visit, and some will have signed the petition in favour of Mr Trump coming here. I have to say that only about 30 have taken the trouble to email me with their views. It is perfectly legitimate for individuals to sign a petition expressing their personal views, but for a Government to support such a petition—particularly the one in favour of banning the President—would be irresponsible and self-indulgent. The Government must separate the individual from the office holder and act in the British national interest, as many of my colleagues have said.
There is no doubt that our relationship with the United States is essential for both the economy and security. If a state visit will enhance and strengthen our ties, we should support it. There are those who have been critical of the President’s legitimacy. I think the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) spoke about legitimacy, and I recognise the passion and deep feeling with which she spoke. However, the President is legitimate. He was democratically elected by the American people. For us to turn our back on the holder of the office of President is an insult to many millions of people.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the debate is not about legitimacy? No one is saying “Let’s not invite President Trump to the UK.” We are saying, “Let’s not roll out the red carpet and honour his rhetoric.”
I think that we should roll out the red carpet if it is in our national interest to do so. I do not think there is any doubt about that, as I have said. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), who is not now in his place, rightly raised comparisons with the Brexit vote. Other candidates in the USA can be compared with those who campaigned for a remain vote in the UK, who did not understand the deeply held views of the British people. Many of the sneering, arrogant, superior comments that we now hear from commentators and, it must be said, some politicians, are an insult to the British people or, in this case, the American people.
The United States is a fully functioning democracy. There are checks and balances in its system, as we have seen from the court decision that went against the President’s immigration ban. The right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) spoke about shared values, and the important shared values that we should unite to strengthen are the democratic process, the judicial system and a free press. Foolishly, last year, as, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) mentioned, we had a debate in this Chamber about whether to ban candidate Trump. That was foolish and ill advised, but the present debate is even more so. I repeat that he is the democratically elected President of our most important ally.
Reference has been made to Mr Trump meeting Her Majesty the Queen. Her Majesty has met, as the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) described them, some “unsavoury characters”. In fact, she has met some characters who have actually taken up arms against the Crown, but she has moved on from that because it is in the best interests of our nation.
Mr Trump has said some unusual and irregular things, and some things I would certainly not agree with, but he has not, like many world leaders who Her Majesty and the Government have met over the years, abused human rights. One hopes he is now in a position to actually prevent other leaders around the world from doing so. There is absolutely no doubt, in my judgment, that we should indeed roll out the carpet for the President. We are not rolling out the carpet for Mr Trump; we are rolling out the red carpet for our most valued ally.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is not in his place, because I would like to respond to his arguments, particularly about the post-second world war situation and the need for peace and stability.
As a wee boy, on 4 September 1959, I walked with my mother from Maybole to Culzean castle in Ayrshire. I did so on that autumn day to view the coming of the then President of the United States, President Eisenhower, on his visit to Culzean castle. He was well known to the people of the small town of Maybole, where he had been made a freeman in 1946. He had also been given a suite of rooms in Culzean castle, called the Eisenhower suite, by the people of Scotland.
As many Members will know, Eisenhower was a five-star general who served as the supreme commander of the allied expeditionary force in Europe. Post-world war two, he became the first ever supreme commander of NATO. He was then President of the United States from 1953 to 1961—a time when the cold war gripped people with the fear that we faced the possibility of a third world war. He famously called Culzean castle his second White House, given that he visited it not only in the positions that he held but with his family on many occasions during his life.
However, that great American, who served us so well in the second world war as a supreme commander, who was the first commander of NATO and who became probably the greatest post-second world war Republican President, was only once—in 1959— allowed an informal visit to the United Kingdom. He was never afforded a state reception or the right to address Parliament, and he and the American people never complained once. He was able to engage informally. All we are asking is, if an informal visit was sufficient for that great President, who contributed so much to our society and to the defeat of fascism, why on earth are we rolling out the red carpet for a man who has only spread division and international instability?
The first foreign leader to be invited to address this Parliament was the President of France, on 23 March 1939, so it was not as if there was no precedent of having people coming on state visits or speaking to Parliament. We know that only two American Presidents in history have been afforded both a state visit and an invitation to address Parliament: Reagan and Obama. Bill Clinton was invited to address Parliament but did not receive a state visit, and George W. Bush received a state visit but was not invited to address Parliament.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, most American Presidents who have come to this country have come on informal visits; it is unusual for us to accord a state visit or the ability to address Parliament to American Presidents. If we do so for this President, who has created such international instability and such social division, we should think very carefully about what makes him deserving of a state visit. I would say that nothing does. This is a grubby and despicable manoeuvre by the Prime Minister.
Many years ago, the Scottish poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, said that, when he died, he wanted there to be a two-minute pandemonium. The only good thing I can see coming out of President Trump’s state visit is the opportunity for the citizens and parliamentarians of the nations of the United Kingdom to have a two-minute pandemonium in opposition.
I will keep my remarks brief. I am disappointed that some hon. Members who have spoken in favour of the petition to ban President Trump have said that anyone who supports the visit is an apologist for his views. That is absolutely not the case. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) was exactly right when he spoke of the need for calm, reflective diplomacy. I do not think megaphone diplomacy is ever to be advocated; we are best served by conducting our relationship with the United States in a positive manner.
The Government’s response to both petitions said that the visit was offered
“on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen”.
I cannot think that the Queen is completely unaware of what is being offered in her name. I do not actually have any idea of what Her Majesty thinks—that is way above my pay grade—but that is the whole point: we are not aware of what Her Majesty thinks. As convention decrees, she does not pronounce her views. However, I cannot think that Her Majesty will be embarrassed. As always, she will be a beacon of soft diplomacy by greeting the visitors to this country who are accorded the right of a visit in her name.
I made a list of hon. Members who are against the visit, including the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). I find it quite surprising that they argue that seven days was a short term in which to make the invitation. I hope colleagues will indulge me in saying that it is like the old story that someone is arguing with a prostitute about the price, and when he offers her tuppence, she says, “What do you take me for?”, and he says, “I think we know”. That is now a negotiating strategy. [Interruption.] Oh, let us have some fake outrage now; I think everybody has heard that comment before. I am standing here as a woman being shouted down by women, isn’t that right?
If not during those seven days, at what time would Opposition Members have considered it appropriate to extend the invitation? What we are actually talking about is a ban. From everything that has been said, there would seem to be no point that would be acceptable to the hon. Members who have spoken in favour of the petition to ban President Trump. I have listened courteously to all hon. Members who have spoken; I have sat here and not intervened because I am mindful of time, so I would appreciate not being barracked by Opposition Members.
My point is that, if we agree that the diplomacy to be extended between ourselves and the United States of America is within the gift of the Prime Minister and, I presume, with the permission of Her Majesty, we know that it will be done in the best possible manner to further our relationship with our closest ally. I am amazed that Opposition Members think that using a stick to poke and stir up the bees’ nest is the best way forward. The calm, reflective measures that were talked earlier about are exactly what we need.
Any of us who have particular concerns about some of President Trump’s pronouncements are quite right to have them; I object completely to some of the things that have been said. However, our Government have extended an invitation, in the name of Her Majesty, for someone to come to our country as a welcomed ally and as a President with whom we shall hopefully have a good and purposeful relationship.
We are now hearing comments about the man being protozoan. We have no respect for leaders of other countries if we talk about them in that manner. If we have concerns about his policies, we can by all means criticise them and raise those concerns, but until that point—until we turn our back on the President of the United States of America—I think it is quite appropriate that we offer a state visit. Our Prime Minister, through her diplomatic efforts, has secured a future for NATO and a future direction for this country that binds us together as allies.
Does my hon. Friend get the impression that a number of people simply cannot come to terms with the fact that 61 million-plus people voted for the President of the United States, Donald Trump, because they felt left behind? There is an inability among people in this House to come to terms with democracy. That is why Tony Blair was visiting TV and radio stations the other day, trying to reverse the democratic decision of the British people—it is an inability to understand what democracy is all about.
My hon. Friend is right. There have been plenty of comments here, but nearly 63 million people, I am reliably informed, voted for President Trump. That is their democratic decision. They are the people who have evaluated whether they like the man and whether they think he will take the country forwards. Many of them were aware of some of his comments in the past, and they voted for him because of the lines he has taken. It is not for us to criticise them and try to redress the matter now. I thought it was ridiculous when we debated somehow standing against his candidacy. He is the President, and we must move on.
If we have criticisms and concerns, the most important thing is that they are expressed behind closed doors. These public pronouncements seem completely counterintuitive to what we need to be doing for the future of this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) got it exactly right: the easy thing to do is to stand in this Chamber and make vast speeches about how some of President Trump’s comments have been totally reprehensible. They have been, but how much farther does that get us? How much farther does that get our country in trade deals and negotiations, and perhaps when it comes to our reliance on America at some point in the future when it needs to come to our aid? I suspect this is a very dangerous route to go down.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I want to start by talking about the number of people who have signed this petition, because it is truly staggering. In my constituency, the figure is almost 9,000—that is almost one in every 10 residents of Cambridge. We have heard talk about democracy. I have to say that democracy does not equal majoritarianism, and it is very important to remember that.
I want to say a little bit about why people in cities such as Cambridge feel so passionately about this issue, which goes to the very heart and kernel of people’s beliefs about themselves. We have heard about the people who have been left behind, but there is another place that values tolerance, education, understanding and learning. That is the kind of city Cambridge is, and there are other cities around the country just like that. For many people, this is more than just a calculation of national interest; it is about who we are and about our values, and it really matters.
I will quote one or two of my constituents who have not only signed the petition but written to me. One said:
“I am appalled at the recent travel ban imposed by President Trump which denigrates Western values in such a public and devastating way.”
We have heard the argument about the fact that we have had other unsavoury leaders here in the past. Of course, there are always trade-offs. When we invite people here, we are trying to do something positive: we are trying to find common ground. The goal is always to widen dialogue. However, the United States is so much better than President Trump—that is the key to this.
We have a shared history. We go back historically. There has always been a tension between the old world and the new world. It has been a creative, cultural tension over many years. The fact that we are such good friends and have such shared values ought to mean we are the ones who can candidly say to the many, many people in America who are looking for something better that in a troubled time—and it is a troubled time—we stand with them. Frankly, as we speak, the Trump presidency is disintegrating. There has been a near meltdown in the White House over the past month or two, and we should not be coming along to help prop it up.
We have heard about the Prime Minister’s rush to go and meet President Trump. We all understand why that was and can see the point of that, post-Brexit. However, one of my constituents describes that as an
“obsequious and inappropriate offer of cordiality.”
Those words may not be chosen in every constituency, but it sums up what a lot of people feel in Cambridge. My view is that turning to such an unstable regime is a big risk that may not look so bright in the months ahead. Is that really the patriotic option, in our national self-interest? Are we really sure this is the person we should put our trust in? We used to understand that by sharing sovereignty with others, we were all stronger. We are now in a new world where it is everyone for themselves. America is a big, powerful country—if it is America first, where does that leave us exactly? We should think clearly about that. Another constituent says that our relationship with the US is
“diminished by subordinating our long-held values for our short-term trading interests. The ‘special relationship’ is only as special as the values which underpin it.”
I understand the difficulty that the Prime Minister has got herself into, but there are many ways out of it. Just the revelations about Trump’s first choice for national security adviser and his potential link with the Russians should surely be more than enough reason for us to think that enough is enough. If this is about UK national security and interests, I say think again.
Let me conclude by saying that in my view, Mr Trump is a disgusting, immoral man. He represents the very opposite of the values we hold and should not be welcome here. We are a tolerant country, but we cannot allow that tolerance to be abused. We do not welcome bigots and we do not stand aside when we see intolerance, ignorance and hatred on the march—we respond, and that response should be for our Government to withdraw the invitation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I am a teacher by profession. One of the most important things that a teacher can give to their pupils is a view of tolerance, respect and understanding that the world is made up of a whole variety of different people who are no better or worse than one another.
I became concerned when I heard comments such as
“Grab them by the pussy”.
I was even more concerned when those comments were dangerously dismissed as locker room talk. Unlike the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), I do not know any men who think like that, have those thoughts or even discuss them in the locker room—but then again, I move in circles different from him. When Donald Trump was elected, I tweeted:
“Xenophobic, racist, sectarian and sexist rhetoric has just been legitimised. We should all be very afraid.”
Fox News reported that our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, had urged Trump to reach out to those who felt marginalised—a view I think we all agree with.
I appreciate that my hon. Friend is a trained teacher, but could I ask her to project a little more, over the noise of the many, many people who are protesting outside against Trump?
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Of course, many of us may join those people after this debate. [Interruption.] No, I will not give way.
Fox News also quoted my tweet, which opened the floodgates. I have a whole pile of comments. I will not treat Members to the whole selection, but I will read a couple of brief ones. They include:
“Mind your damn business and stay the hell out of our politics,”
“The silent majority has spoken. We do not want to end up like your piss poor country,”
“We kicked your ass once. We can do it again if you give us a reason.”
Here is another one:
“Keep your vulgar comments on your side of the pond. We should have let Germany run over you in the 40s.”
My personal favourite was from the geographically challenged Randy Krone from Dallas, who tweeted:
“Ignorant, thick, foolish is the order of the day with Carol Monaghan. Australia should be very afraid.”
Regardless of why people voted the way they did, a Pandora’s box of hate has been opened and the right wing has been emboldened, both in the United States and across Europe, and we should all be worried about that. Dark rhetoric that should never be uttered is now being freely expressed. What do teachers now tell their classes? How do they teach them tolerance and respect when Trump has been not only elected, but offered a state visit? How can teachers defend tolerance? How can they stand up to their pupils? How can they tackle bullying, xenophobia and homophobia in schools when we have rolled out the red carpet to him? I have heard a number of people saying that that is in the national interest. I will tell them what is in the national interest: showing an example to our young people and telling them that those views are not to be accepted or tolerated. We should be defending those who have moderate views and moderate positions.
I stand here in support of the 3,554 of my constituents who have signed the petition and the many others who emailed me, urging me to speak out against this state visit.
My hon. Friend and I share a constituency boundary, and 5,259 of my constituents have signed the petition against the state visit, compared with the 168 who signed the petition in favour. Given the vast level of public interest in this petition, the interest that we can hear outside and the interest that is demonstrated by the number of hon. Members wanting to contribute this evening, does my hon. Friend agree that the Petitions Committee and the Procedure Committee need to look at ways of extending the time and perhaps even the space that is available for this kind of debate in the future?
Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. As soon as we arrived for the debate this afternoon I wondered why it was not taking place in the main Chamber. So many hon. Members obviously want to speak, and I am sure that the main Chamber is much less busy than this one this evening.
To conclude, I agree with the overwhelming view of my constituents that this state visit should not go ahead, in the national interest.
Order. The next speaker is Mr Alistair Carmichael. Could we now cut speeches down to four minutes?
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate and to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I congratulate the Petitions Committee on bringing it to us this afternoon and, in particular, I congratulate all those who set up and signed the petitions. For them to see the direct influence of that political activism on the business of this House has to be a good and positive development.
The argument advanced by those who support the extension of an invitation of this sort to President Trump, which was most thoughtfully expressed by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), is that essentially this is the spending of a measure of political capital, on which there will be a return. As the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee put it, the Prime Minister won an important reaffirmation of the special relationship. I have to say to all those who have advanced that argument: where is the evidence that that is in fact the case? I ask that because having offered President Trump a state visit, and the offer having been accepted, we have since seen a very different range of views coming from him that are not particularly helpful, particularly in relation to America’s future engagement through NATO—the relationship with Russia, for example.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very important point. Does he recall another British Prime Minister, one who did many good things but, I think, was deeply naive about the ability he thought he had to influence an American President, and where that led us?
Indeed, and I had cause to reflect this weekend on that former Prime Minister.
My other concern is that we may have spent that capital in this way and it may or may not ultimately be effective, but this is week one of a four-year term. Having offered a state visit this time, what will we offer the next time we want to get a favourable response?
The Crown jewels.
Will it be the Crown jewels? Who knows? Just about anything is possible these days.
Essentially, what we are talking about is a question of judgment, and in my view, the Prime Minister, in the exercise of her judgment, got it catastrophically wrong, not just in offering a state visit but, as others have observed, in doing so seven days after President Trump’s inauguration. That was not something that she just decided to do on the spur of the moment. We all know the Prime Minister well enough to know that it was not something she would have blurted out to fill an awkward pause in the conversation, so the question is: what was the motivation? My suspicion is that she was perhaps a little bit spooked by seeing the pictures of Nigel Farage at Trump Tower following the election in November, or it may be—as the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) suggested—that she was pursuing questions of trade deals post Brexit. Whatever the motivation, however, it has left us looking desperate and craven and rushing to embrace a presidency when the rest of the world is rushing away from it.
It is also worth remembering some of the things that that presidency involves and, in particular—this is my personal concern—President Trump’s determination or avowed intention to resurrect the use of torture.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I am sorry, but I am down to four minutes and I do not have any more injury time, as it is called.
Waterboarding or something
“a hell of a lot worse”
was the expression. When I asked the Foreign Secretary whether he had raised that with President Trump, he said that he did not discuss operational matters. Whether we share our intelligence with a country that condones the use of torture is not an operational matter. That is a matter of policy for every other country in the world and it should be a matter of policy for the United States of America as well.
I have no issue with the Prime Minister seeking to influence the President of the United States, but she should do it in a way that engages the relationship that we have enjoyed in the past; she should be seeking to build on that. If, and only if, she is successful in that should an offer such as the one that she has made be extended. That presumes, of course, that President Trump will be influenced. I see little evidence to support that contention. Even those few benign influences that are around him do not seem able to do that.
I start from the position of somebody who values the special relationship, but I understand that that special relationship is not between a Government and an Administration; it is between our two peoples. It is our shared history and our shared values that make it special and enduring, and that is what the Prime Minister risks doing severe damage to today.
I would hope that this debate—not just the debate in Westminster Hall, but the wider debate—would be conducted in a calm and rational fashion, but the past hour and 40 minutes indicate that that may indeed be a hope rather than an expectation. None the less, this matter has been debated widely outside the House, and there are many outside who do not share my view. My view is that Candidate Trump and Mr Trump made some deplorable and vile comments, which are indefensible —they cannot be defended morally, politically or in any other way—but he is the democratically elected President of the United States of America. As far as I am aware, 62.9 million people voted for the now President Trump, and the electoral college system delivered the presidency to him.
In the few minutes that I have, I wish to labour the following point. Eight years ago we had the election of President Barack Obama. We were told at the time that here was a new man. Here was a man whose slogan was “Yes, we can”, who would introduce a radical wave of liberal ideas that would bring the United States of America well into the 21st century and would liberate and emancipate that nation state, with the great liberty that it has had for more than 200 years. According to some, more than 60 million Americans, after having eight years of Obama’s presidency, elected a bigoted, misogynistic, racist, paranoid xenophobe and Islamophobe. How did they do that after eight years of the great liberal being in charge of the United States of America? How can otherwise rational, peaceful democrats vote for such a xenophobe?
That question is in part what the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) alluded to. Across the free world there is an isolation—not the isolationism of President Trump, but an isolation of peoples. Whether in the United Kingdom or the USA, and as we will probably see in the Netherlands, France and Germany, there is a rising up of people who have had enough of the establishment because they blame the establishment for their plight. It does not do for people to patronise them and say, “We will take account of your fears and concerns. You have perceptions—they are not really accurate, but we understand that they are your perceptions.” That will not wash. It did not wash in America, it did not wash with the Brexit vote and we will wait and see whether it washes in much of continental Europe. It is time the establishment—the bubble—whether in Westminster, Brussels or Washington woke up to the reality that people want to see and hear their Government and elected representatives representing them rather than simply going through the motions of establishing further bubbles and retreating into their bubble even more.
I do not endorse some of the things President Trump has said, but he has been invited. We should ensure that that invite goes ahead and we should also say to Mr Trump, “Some of the things you have said are unacceptable. If you think that the pendulum has swung too far to the left, Mr Trump, please be sure that you do not allow it to swing too far to the right.”
I congratulate the Petitions Committee on holding this debate. My constituency is the most diverse in Europe, and I am very proud of that. Almost everybody there has something to say about Trump and America.
The UK has, and always has had, a close working relationship with the United States, and it is important to continue that special relationship, but it comes with responsibilities. Today we speak in our Parliament, which is older than the United States itself, and we have a responsibility—as the elder, if you like—to guide that special relationship. It is often said that when America sneezes, the UK catches a cold. Well, right now America has a pretty nasty virus, and it is important that that virus does not spread. We have to stop the spread of that virus, because the closeness of our special relationship and the open wound we have, which was created by Brexit, leaves us quite vulnerable. We need to stop this contagion becoming an epidemic that leads to a pandemic from which the free world may never recover.
There is a lot of talk about the negotiations the Prime Minister delivered to continue our close working relationship. I say that we cannot sell our souls and what we believe in in order to sell our goods and services. That price is way too high to pay. The antidote to the virus is building bridges, not walls. It is listening to the thousands of people who have spoken, who have signed the petition and who are outside Parliament right now—we can hear them cheering and chanting. We hear people who have come out to march. People who have never marched before are outside Parliament right now because they believe in something. They believe in hope, not hate.
Edmund Burke said,
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
I am sure that he wanted to mention women in his speech and his wise statement. It was women who were the first to mobilise against Trump’s extremism; hundreds of thousands took to the streets, and they were rightly joined by men, boys, girls, those who are gay, straight, people of all religions and those of none. It is time that the United Kingdom united its voice against racism, bigotry, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and all the tools of division that have given Trump the White House. People have said today, “He is not racist, because—”. To me, that is the same as saying, “How can someone be a murderer?” It is the same way as a murderer can be a murderer and still have friends who are alive. It does not matter—he is still a racist and misogynistic.
We affect each other. I think Martin Luther King put it well. He said:
“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be… this is the interrelated structure of reality.”
We are bound together in a “single garment of destiny” and we need each other in order to move forward. There is no way around it; we have to work with other people.
President Trump is the President. He can come and visit, but not on a state visit—that is taking it a little step too far. Trump’s message is not about togetherness; it is all about building walls and imposing bans. It is not about the truth; when he speaks and someone criticises or questions what he has said, he cries that it is fake news. There is a real issue and a problem that we have to address.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
Order. We have reached 6.45 pm, so we must move on to Liam Byrne.
I will conclude to give my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) time to speak. I just want to say that the whole world is watching the decision that we make in Parliament, and we cannot be on the wrong side of history.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner.
I want to start in the same place as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), which is as someone who loves America very dearly. I am proud to be one of the Fulbright scholars in this place. I spent two happy years living in America. I criss-crossed the country in that time, and it was there where I learnt about America’s warmth, beauty, enterprise, energy, creativity, generosity and resolution in the face of adversity. Those are all the values we expect a President of the United States to epitomise. Those were the values of President Washington, whose birthday we mark today on Presidents’ day. It was once said that President Washington could not tell a lie; this President appears to find it difficult telling the truth.
What we need right now, in this world of division and discord, is a shared defence of the values we have in common. We need a shared stand against disunity, a shared stand against intolerance and a shared stand against hatred. That is what we should be celebrating with a presidential state visit to the United Kingdom and that, I am afraid, is what we are not going to get. My fear is that this visit will not be a showcase for those shared values. Actually, it will be a showcase for the divisions between us. We have to ask ourselves what will greet President Trump when he gets here. I argue that, frankly, we are going to get the kind of protest that we see outside now. In fact, what will greet the President will make the protest outside look like a tea party. What we hope to be a special relationship will emerge as a strained relationship.
If I thought, similar to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), that we could take the President for a non-alcoholic pint, sit him down for a cup of tea or take him out for a curry in the balti triangle of Birmingham, and send him away a better man, I would be all for rolling out the red carpet. But what the President has shown us by his conduct is that he is not a man who treasures two-way conversations; he is a man who treasures one-way conversations, ideally composed of 140 characters.
Some hon. Members have said that we have entertained all sorts. That is true. Diplomacy is not a business in which we can conduct conversations only with our friends. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) said, however, we hold America to a higher standard because it is our friend. Our shared values were pioneered in this Parliament in the years before the civil war. We gave those shared values to the pilgrim fathers, who took them and wrote the Mayflower compact, which became the American constitution. Those are values that we should be celebrating.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not give way, because time is now very short.
My fear is that nothing would be left unsaid in this visit. That is a problem, because sometimes in diplomacy things are better left unsaid. In this visit we would hear the sirens and the protests, and my fear is that in parts of America that would be misinterpreted not as antipathy to Donald Trump but as antipathy to America. That is not something we want if we are to strengthen and reinforce the American special relationship.
The truth is that the history of British diplomacy and politics is littered with British Prime Ministers who overestimated their influence on American Presidents. I fear that our Prime Minister is about to add her name to that cast list. The state visit will be a mistake, but it is hard to withdraw the offer now. Frankly, our best hope is to keep it short, because my fear is that it will not be sweet.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Turner.
I ask the Members who are still here this evening to close their eyes and think about something for a minute: if we were talking about any other person—any other leader—in the world, wherever they might come from, would we be standing in such astute defence of him? I think perhaps not, and we should all think about what that says about us. Does it say that it does not matter what the President of the United States says, because he is a rich white man? I fear that that is exactly what it says.
Some have talked of others who have been invited on state visits to this country. I ask hon. Members who raised that issue this: which other head of state who has been invited on a state visit has posed a threat to our national security and has insulted a member of the royal family? I think the answer to that is none.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will not, because it would not be fair to everybody else.
The right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) spoke of the path of righteousness—a very noble path indeed—but I fear that we have been here before. Many of us in the Chamber today were at the previous debate, including the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), who spoke about inviting President Trump over—he was not then even the candidate for the Republican party—to see how we live in this country and to see our tolerant society, of which we are extremely proud. If anyone really thinks that would make much of a difference, I would comment on their innocence in this matter.
A comment was made about Trump being “refreshing”. I can understand why Government Members find it refreshing when an elected leader actually does what they said they were going to do during their election campaign—they are certainly unfamiliar with that concept—but I find the use of the word “refreshing” in this case rather abhorrent.
That takes me on to the comment made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). He asked, “Which one of us hasn’t made a ridiculous sexual comment in the past?” It is unacceptable that he thinks that is the right point to bring to this forum. It is never, ever okay to make comments of a sexual nature to anybody. I know I speak for all the women in this House—if not some of the men too—when I say that we have had enough of it and we are certainly not going to put up with any more of it.
State visits have been an honour bestowed by our monarchy on the heads of states of other nations. This debate is not about how the USA voted—of course it is not. We know there were democratic elections, although President Trump has cast aspersions upon whether some of the people who voted had the right to do so. What this debate is about is who we are as a country made up of four nations. I have to say that I think the voices we can hear outside are perhaps more demonstrative of who we are as a country of many nations than some of the voices we have heard in here today.
My hon. Friend is making an important point. We respect the right of the Americans to decide their President, but that is not what this debate is about; it is about our values, our constituents and what the situation means to us. If this Parliament is an embodiment of our country’s values, to paraphrase Jane Austen, are the shades of Parliament to be thus polluted?
I agree very much with my hon. Friend. There were sighs from Members at the back of the Chamber because I allowed an intervention from her, but I did so because she has not yet spoken in the debate, and it is important that everybody’s voice is heard, not just those of the majority made up by men.
My hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) has not spoken either.
Well, I will take his intervention then. I did not realise.
I am extremely grateful. The hon. Lady is sending a powerful message, but I want to take her back to her points about other heads of states who have come, because I am a bit confused. Many Members have mentioned some rather unsavoury figures who have been afforded state visits. Not so long ago we rolled out the red carpet for the Emir of Kuwait, which is a place where, if someone is gay, there is a pretty good chance they will be slung in prison. I wonder whether the hon. Lady thinks we are perhaps traipsing into an area of double standards.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention—I see that I do not get any extra speaking time for taking it. I believe that when it is in our national interest, the Governments of Scotland and the UK should seek to work constructively with Governments and world leaders with whom we agree and disagree. However, I refer him to the points I made about what is in the interests of our national security and the insults that have been made to the royal family, which I will come to.
We must demonstrate leadership. The point of all that we do is to encourage others who visit this country to raise their game, but the current President of the United States is not someone who is demonstrating positive leadership on the world stage, someone who would benefit from a first-hand examination of democracy, or someone who is acting in a way that is in our national interest.
Up to now, Presidents of the United States have been almost universally considered to be leaders of the free world. There have been some good and some not-so-good Presidents, but although we may agree with some of their philosophies or policies, each has been committed to upholding the constitution of the United States and promoting and protecting freedom and justice across the world. I consider myself a friend of the United States and like many Scots, I am pleased about our countries’ strong links. As an alumna of the US State Department’s international visitor leadership programme, I have seen at first hand the professionalism and care with which US Administrations deal with their friends from across the world when they visit, but President Trump does not follow in the footsteps of the giants of American history. His actions to date have not upheld US values and those of the US constitution, but have undermined them to every extent.
It is not just by inviting him here on a state visit that we are setting aside his outrageous and deplorable personal conduct. As we have heard, this is a man who jokes about grabbing women “by the pussy”. This is a man who—[Interruption.] I hear groans from Members at the back of the Chamber, but it is just not on. This is a man who said of the Duchess of Cambridge in 2012:
“Who wouldn’t take Kate’s picture and make lots of money if she does the nude sunbathing thing. Come on Kate!”
How humiliating it would be for any family to welcome somebody like that in their home, and we are asking that the royal family do precisely that.
I object to this proposed state visit not just because of President Trump’s vile behaviour, but because of his actions as President. He signed illegal and unconstitutional Executive orders that contravened the USA’s obligations under the Geneva convention. His subsequent public statements have systematically undermined the independence of the judiciary. He set the groundwork for rolling back the Voting Rights Act and placing new restrictions on Americans’ rights to vote by falsely claiming that voting fraud is taking place on a massive scale, without a single shred of evidence to substantiate it. He has undermined the free press. He has called any poll that shows the US public at odds with his policy position “fake news”—in fact, he has now extended that to “very fake news”. He speaks of the press being the enemy of the American people and has publicly endorsed the use of war crimes by US forces abroad. He would deliberately target innocent civilians, in direct contravention of international law. His actions are morally and legally wrong and in conflict with our international interests.
But do not just take my word for it. Following the issue of the Executive order banning entry to the US by those born in a number of predominantly Muslim countries, the Home Secretary said during questioning that
“the sources of terrorism are not to be found in the sources where the president is necessarily looking for them.”
Trump is not combating terrorism; he is bolstering it. He is adopting a warped world view that will in itself give aid to terrorists. He says that it is Islam against the west, and that feeds into the narrative of Daesh, which says that it is the west against Islam. What a dangerous path to take us down.
As we saw during last week’s press conference—it could only be described as extraordinary—which achieved its main aim of deflecting immediate attention from the mounting evidence of links with Putin’s Russia, President Trump is either a complete idiot who believes everything he reads on the internet, or an enormous liar. I do not think he is actually an idiot; he has been phenomenally successful in achieving his goals. He has a plan and a means to carry it out.
I want to join my friends in the US in defending their constitution. Have we spared that a thought? This is about not just Government-to-Government action, but the people of the United States of America who have protested against the actions of their President. Men, women and children alike stood beside refugees when the Muslim ban was put in place. Who is going to speak for them? I think we should.
If we fete and accommodate Trump on an official visit, lending him our cloak of respectability, and hope that that acquiescence will change his dangerous policies or vile behaviour, we will carrying on the tradition of the spectacularly unsuccessful tactics used by Tory MPs in this Chamber who attended the debate a year ago and dismissed him as a “wazzock”—I think that was the word that was used. Those who chose to ridicule him then must be wondering why they did. We have now heard from the Prime Minister, as we have heard so often, that we are supposed to be demonstrating global leadership. In our actions, we have demonstrated only that we have failed in our duty to do so. We are following in Trump’s footsteps, and I do not intend to go in that direction.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, not least because my constituency has the third highest number of signatories to the petition. It is a happy coincidence that I have the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Opposition.
The petition is approaching the 2 million-signature mark, and we know from the hundreds of letters that we have received in our offices and the thousands of people who joined my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and me at the protests earlier this month that public concern is immense, not only about the President’s behaviour and confrontational approach but about the position that our Government have taken in relation to his visit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) gave some excellent examples in his contribution, and many Members have made passionate speeches. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, the United States is one of our closest allies and strongest trading partners, although I hasten to add that they were not our only partner in the world wars—there were other important partners among the Commonwealth countries and we must not forget our history. However, as he pointed out, what is important is the relationship. It was great to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) speak about his experience of studying in the US. There is nothing like an experience at university to hammer home that sense of friendship.
On that point, does the hon. Lady agree with the staff who work at places such as the US State Department, consulates and embassies? I spent 18 months working for the American consulate in Edinburgh, and I was with staff there on the evening of the election. They were devastated at the thought that Trump had been elected President. They are now at the forefront, having to face down and work with the public while he makes abhorrent statements.
I did feel a sense of sympathy for the woman who was unceremoniously sacked following the imposition of the ban. Having run a local authority, I know how heated elected members can get. They run into the Chamber or the White House and suddenly decide, “This is the policy of the day,” and the poor old staff have to respond and think up how that policy can actually come into effect. That is why certain states have questioned the legal basis for the famous so-called Muslim ban.
I will comment briefly on the issues that we should be talking about: tackling international crime and terrorism, working together to address the mass movement of people around the globe and reinforcing international policies to combat climate change. Sadly, instead, we are falling into the trap of responding confrontationally to policy pronouncements made via Twitter. I hope we can right the ship again and get back to our more measured way of discussing, debating and taking a little more time to consider the importance of our foreign policy.
One concern outlined in the text of the petition is the potential embarrassment that a state visit might cause to Her Majesty. However, I fear that there is a greater concern. Proceeding with the organisation of a state visit while President Trump remains intent on enforcing his travel ban on nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, and while we are trying to establish a relationship of equals, would send the wrong message to the White House, the international community and the sizable diasporas from those countries resident here in our constituencies. Let us be in no doubt: it is not about the fact that that one group is being singled out, but the fact that any group at all is being singled out. It is that random nature of discrimination that strikes fear into the hearts of many.
We know that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, took the President to task for how the travel ban amounted to a breach of the refugee convention. Many expect the same of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I share the disappointment of the hundreds of thousands of citizens who felt totally let down by the lack of robust leadership, not least because it sends a worrying message that our foreign policy is overwhelming focused on and determined by trade. I would welcome a commitment from the Minister to a more rounded foreign policy that considers not just trade but the importance of human rights and national security.
As many have already mentioned, Presidents of the United States have often made official visits to the UK for summit meetings or other events within months of their inauguration. However, state visits, which require an invitation, have historically taken place after a considerably longer period following inauguration than the one currently proposed for President Trump. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made the important point that a more considered approach might involve asking one of our Committees to review our procedures for state visits. That would also protect a Prime Minister caught on the hop abroad, who could say that Parliament had a system rather than setting out, as ours did, on a rather unfortunate and risky endeavour. She was barely in the air before the ban was suddenly announced, and she was caught in the position of having to respond quickly. Had she been able to say, “We have a due process for deciding these things, and we will let you know,” it would have been much more diplomatic, considered and sensible. I hope the Minister will comment on that suggestion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) pointed out that the Prime Minister announced the invitation just a week after the President took office. A little more thought about the timing would have been much more helpful, and would perhaps have led to less concern among our own citizens, whom we can hear outside this Chamber. My hon. Friends the Members for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) and for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) also pointed out eloquently the importance of our values on women’s rights, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) discussed her constituency, where misogynistic and racist messages are clearly unwelcome.
To sum up, we share the concern of many parliamentary colleagues and millions of people across the UK about both the timing and the context of the invitation for a state visit. I am keen to know whether the Minister, who we know is an honourable man, had any personal discussions with the Foreign Secretary or indeed the Prime Minister about the timing of the invitation and the designation of the visit as a state visit, given that the Minister himself believes the rhetoric around the travel ban to be “unacceptably anti-Muslim”. I would also like to give the Minister the opportunity to admit that extending the honour of a state visit in the current context was essentially an error of judgment.
The position is clear: we are opposed to honouring Mr Trump with a state visit so early in his presidency, and certainly while he remains intent on enforcing this discriminatory travel ban. Should it proceed, I am strongly opposed to offering him the honour of addressing both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall so early. I associate myself with the remarks of the Speaker of the House of Commons and the sentiments expressed in early-day motion 890, tabled by my excellent hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty).
I am immensely proud that Members speaking in this debate have reaffirmed Parliament’s strong role and commitment to the principles of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, as well as our opposition to racism and sexism.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. In response to the two petitions that have triggered this debate, and having listened to the arguments of both sides, I would like to set out the position of Her Majesty’s Government and explain the thinking behind it.
As other hon. Members have said, the state visit is a uniquely British construct. No other country is able to offer one in quite the same way—it is distinctively British. Her Majesty has hosted more than 100 state visits during her reign. All such visits are a rare and prestigious occasion, but they are also our most important diplomatic tool. They enable us to strengthen and influence the international relationships that are of the greatest strategic importance to this country and to other parts of the world.
To answer a question asked by the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), recommendations for state visits are made on the advice of the Government through the Royal Visits Committee, not by Parliament. The committee is attended by representatives of the royal household, Downing Street, the Cabinet Office and the Department for International Trade, and is chaired by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Will the Minister give way?
No, I am going to make progress.
In an uncertain and increasingly dangerous world, the ability to work closely with key countries is critical. Strong alliances and close relationships are a central stabilising pillar for world security. This is an increasingly unstable world, but throughout modern history, the United States and the United Kingdom have worked together side by side to bring peace and security during times of danger and uncertainty. Put simply, a state visit matters so much because diplomacy matters, especially with the world as it is today.
The relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States is built around a common language, the common principles of freedom and democracy, and common interests in so many other areas. Our relationship is undoubtedly special. On security, defence, trade, investment and all such issues, the United Kingdom and the United States are and will remain the closest of partners. The United States is the world’s greatest power. In the light of America’s pivotal role, it is entirely right that we should use all the tools at our disposal to build common ground with President Trump.
As the baton of office passed seamlessly and constitutionally from one President to another, we were already well placed to have a productive and meaningful engagement with the new Administration. The British embassy in Washington has been working with key figures in the US Administration over many months. British Secretaries of State have built relationships with their opposite numbers after their congressional confirmation. The Prime Minister’s visit last month was of enormous significance. Only last week, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary met their opposite numbers. On Friday, I met the US Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly.
The Government place our national interest at the heart of our decision making, and the special relationship is a central part of that national interest.
Will the Minister give way?
No, I am going to keep going.
The special relationship transcends political parties on both sides of the Atlantic, and it is bigger than individual personalities. It is about the security and prosperity of our two nations. The Prime Minister’s meeting with President Trump in Washington last month identified many areas of common interest on which we will work with the new Administration. A state visit will provide the opportunity to further advance those common interests.
Hon. Members have mentioned timing. State visits are not necessarily the sole preserve of long-serving heads of state. In the past, a state visit has been extended to the Presidents of South Africa, France, South Korea, Finland and Poland, among others, each within their first year of office.
Will the Minister give way?
Yes, but just this once, or I will not be able to answer all the points that have been raised.
Does the Minister agree at least that extending a state visit in this way and at this time could effectively be seen as a validation of the views and statements of President Trump? It has been seen in that way by many of my constituents, who feel very concerned about the message that it sends.
I understand the hon. Lady’s point exactly. I accept that that is a powerful counter-argument to the case that I am making, but I do not accept that the process of a state visit will be seen as such validation. Let me explain further what I think the value of the state visit will be.
The Government strongly believe that it is a perfectly legitimate decision to use the full impact of an invitation to maximise the diplomatic significance of a state visit at the start of President Trump’s term of office. President Obama and President George W. Bush both visited the UK on a state visit during their first term in office, so it is entirely appropriate that President Trump, too, should be invited in his first term. However, since timing has been raised today, let me be absolutely clear that neither the precise timing nor the content of the proposed visit has yet been agreed.
Mention has been made of the prospect of the President addressing Parliament in some manner or other. In fact, only three guests in the past hundred years have addressed both Houses of Parliament as part of a state visit: President de Gaulle in 1960, President Mandela in 1996 and President Obama in 2011. In any event, as the House is aware, whether that ever happens is solely for the relevant parliamentary authorities to determine.
On a point of order, Mr Turner. Tens of thousands of people are demonstrating outside and I am having difficulty in hearing the Minister.
No, you’re not!
But did the Minister just tell us that, if he had been asked, he would have advised a visit—
That is a fake point of order.
That is not for the Minister to decide. Mr Turner, you are in the Chair, not the Minister.
Order. That is not eligible as a point of order. Sit down, Mr Salmond. Go on, Minister.
Thank you, Mr Turner.
I was talking about the prospect of the President addressing both Houses of Parliament. Comment on whether that might happen has run completely ahead of itself. The simple fact is that no request for any parliamentary event to take place has been received from Washington. The question of addressing a meeting of Parliament has never even been mentioned. Any discussion or judgment of that possibility is therefore purely speculative.
Within the views that have been expressed about the appropriateness of a state visit from the President, there lurks a fundamental principle that Members of this House should consider very seriously—the principle of freedom of speech. President Trump was democratically elected by the American people under their own constitutional system. To have strong views about him is one matter, but to translate a difference of opinion into a demand to ban him is quite another.
Given the understandable questions on certain policy stances that arise on any change of Government, it is prudent for us to work closely alongside the United States as the new Administration chart their course. We have already seen the importance of that engagement: the Prime Minister’s early meeting with the President has elicited key commitments on NATO, which were echoed by the vice-president in Munich on Saturday, and has laid the groundwork to establish a swift post-Brexit free trade agreement. Further constructive engagement will be helped by a state visit.
In February 1917, a century ago, The Spectator published its view on the US and the UK:
“It would be easy to write down a hundred reasons why unclouded friendship and moral co-operation between the United States and Britain are a benefit to the world, and why an interruption of such relations is a detriment to progress and a disease world-wide in its effects.”
Will the Minister give way?
No; I am in the middle of a quotation. It continues:
“But when we had written down all those reasons we should not have expressed the instinctive sentiments which go below and beyond them all. To our way of feeling, quarrelling and misunderstanding between the British and American peoples are like a thing contrary to Nature. They are so contrary to Nature that the times of misunderstanding have always seemed to us abnormal, and a return to friendship not an achievement of wise diplomacy…but merely a resumption of the normal.”
It is that historic normality that is reflected in this invitation.
This is a special moment for the special relationship. The visit should happen, the visit will happen, and when it does I trust that the United Kingdom will extend a polite and generous welcome to President Donald Trump.
This has been an extraordinary event, and the Petitions Committee and the system for petitions have come of age in this debate. How can we have such a situation, where the Minister has given his carefully manicured press/civil servant briefing while outside we have a Greek chorus of—in his case—disapproval? We are expressing the voice of the people and a thunderous voice it has been.
I will make just one more point. I believe that the debate went off the rails when some hon. Members suggested that the petitioners were asking for a ban on President Trump. Not one of the 2 million people is asking for a ban. In the largest petition, people are asking for the visit to be downgraded from a state visit. That is the whole point, namely that by giving this rare accolade of a state visit to President Trump the implication is that we approve of him and his policies. It is fine to have the President here and it is fine to have a visit on business—there is no objection to that—but this marvellous debate that we have had shows that we are reacting to the voice of the people, and to the anger and fear outside. It is a good day for Parliament.
Question put and negatived.