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President Trump: State Visit

Volume 660: debated on Tuesday 14 May 2019

The Prime Minister and I are delighted that the President of the United States will come to the UK for a state visit in June. It will be an opportunity to celebrate our close and special relationship in areas such as trade, investment, security and defence, and Venezuela.

Many would say that the President should not be getting a state visit at all. In this country, when a bully elbows their way to the front of the queue, we might remonstrate in a politely British way, but we certainly do not reward that bad behaviour by inviting them back for tea. Could the Government perhaps be tactful and polite about this and say that we are all going to be rather busy in June—especially the Foreign Secretary, perhaps—and say that it might be better to reschedule for a later date, preferably long after the President is slung out?

Can we just deal with this ridiculous anti-Americanism on the Opposition Benches? One million jobs in this country depend on US inward investment, more than 400,000 American troops died in the second world war, and the President is coming here to mark the anniversary of D-day. We should honour that relationship, which goes far beyond differences in partisan politics.

One of the first foreign Heads of State I remember seeing address our Parliament was President Xi, who came here in October 2015, shortly after I was elected. This was an opportunity for us to listen to a Head of State from an important partner in the economic community. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that listening to partners and allies, particularly those with whom we share important intelligence and defence relationships, is how diplomacy is done?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I just think that as we celebrate 75 years since the end of the second world war, we should remember that we have the freedoms we enjoy in this House, which we exercise on a daily basis, because America was prepared to stand by our side at a critical moment. That eclipses all other short-term considerations.

Yesterday, three historical allies of the United States—France, Germany and the United Kingdom—made a statement on Syria that was extraordinarily disturbing. Has the Foreign Secretary made it his priority, whatever happens and whatever kind of visit this is, to seek partners in the US to take on the forces that have seen 120 people killed in Syria in recent days and 180,000 people displaced as this conflict goes on and on and on?

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing to the House’s attention the extremely concerning situation in Idlib. We had an agreement that we hoped would hold in order to avoid brutal bloodshed there, and we are very concerned—she is absolutely right about what is happening. I met the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not only when he came to London last week but yesterday in Brussels, and we talk about all the issues concerning the middle east. We must recognise that America is trying to create stability and security in the middle east, and a lot of the malign forces and the problems we have in Syria are caused by the intervention of Russia, which made it difficult to conclude that conflict in the way that I think we would have wanted on both sides of the House.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) on assuming the role of Minister for the Middle East. I wish him well, and I hope that he has rather more success than I had in solving some of the problems in the region.

In his assessment of diplomatic priorities with the United States, will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary ask that at all levels the US gives rather more support to the UK’s efforts at the UN to bring an end to the crisis in Libya? Would he welcome greater support through the Inter-Parliamentary Union from parliamentarians around the world, including friends in Canada, who are seeking to help? We could do with more support from United States friends.

My right hon. Friend is very modest about his time in the Foreign Office, as he did an enormous amount of patient diplomacy behind the scenes to try to solve these intractable problems, not least in Libya. I discussed the Libyan situation with Mike Pompeo yesterday, and I agree that this is an area where we all need to work together closely at the UN.

This House supports and values our relationship with the American people, but that does not equate to a free pass for President Trump’s unacceptable behaviour. When the Secretary of State puts together the agenda for this state visit, may I suggest that he begins with a training course on bullying and harassment, follows up with a science lecture on the climate emergency, and finishes off with a crash course in diplomacy?

I just point out to the hon. Lady that the person who is coming to this country for a state visit is the Head of State of the United States of America. There is no free pass for policies on which we disagree with the Trump Administration—climate change is one, and the Iran nuclear deal is another. We discuss all of them the whole time, but that does not mean that we should not respect the office or the country.

My right hon. Friend is precisely right, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) on his new ministerial post, which he will fulfil very well. May I perhaps gently remind those who do not accept this that America remains, and is likely to remain, our most important ally in the world? We may not agree with everything that it does or everything that it says, but this invitation is from our Head of State to its Head of State. We should accept that—we should not be condescending—and these barbed comments, driven by anti-Americanism, are extremely embarrassing.

I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is very important to recognise that even today, even under this Administration—we are very open; we do not agree with them on everything—about a third of the cost of defending Europe is met by American taxpayers. We should recognise that contribution, and recognise that the security blanket that the United States has provided for the world over the past 70 years or so has been absolutely fundamental to our prosperity.

I too congratulate the Minister for the Middle East on his appointment.

This Parliament has followed the lead of Scotland’s First Minister in declaring a climate emergency. That was the right thing to do and should be a diplomatic priority for this visit, so will the Foreign Secretary express our concerns about US actions at the recent Arctic Council that meant that an accord could not be signed because the US wanted to water down the commitment?

As so many Members have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) on taking up his new post, I need to do the same. He is an outstanding colleague, and we are delighted to have him with us on the Front Bench.

We share the concerns of the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) about what happened at the Arctic Council. This is an area where we have a number of disagreements with the approach taken by the US Administration. That is one reason why we think it is important that the UK win its bid to host COP 26—the big climate change conference that is due to take place next year—to demonstrate European unity on this issue.

In areas like climate change, trade and defending the NHS, we must continue to work with our European partners in the European Parliament and other institutions to counter the damaging policies pursued by the Trump Administration. Will the Foreign Secretary tell the President that those are backward steps, not the forward-thinking steps that we should pursue in Europe?

I think that the hon. Gentleman needs to look at the whole picture of America’s contribution to peace and security around the world. There is enormously destructive behaviour by states such as North Korea, Iran and Russia. American has led the charge in expelling more diplomats post Salisbury than any other country in the world; it is trying to create a peaceful accord with North Korea; and it is taking action against some of Iran’s activities. That is immensely important. We enjoy the benefits of that security, and we should not take it for granted.

Last month we saw the Trump Administration threatening to veto a UN resolution against the use of rape as a weapon of law unless all references to the reproductive rights of women were removed. Even more disgracefully, we saw the UN accept their demands. Can the Secretary of State explain why a President like that deserves the honour of a state visit?

With the greatest respect to the hon. Lady, who makes excellent contributions to debates in this House, I just wish that Labour got its priorities right. This is a party whose leader says that Hamas and Hezbollah are friends and refuses to go to a state banquet with the President of the United States. The resolution she talked about actually passed. The United Kingdom supported it. We do not agree with America on everything, but we do think we should show respect for its enormous contribution to world peace.