The Speaker of the House of Commons of the British Parliament, John Bercow, declared his refusal to invite U.S. President Donald Trump to speak to Members of Parliament (MPs) in Westminster, according to the BBC News.
The news comes after Donald Trump met with British Prime Minister Theresa May last month and agreed to pay a state visit to the United Kingdom. Since then, a petition has been enacted to withdraw this invitation, amassing over 6 million signatures, set to be debated by MPs later this month.
According to The Guardian, in an address to MPs on February 6, Bercow argued that “opposition to racism and sexism [were]hugely important considerations” to be taken into account. Bercow criticized President Trump’s Muslim ban; however, according to the Independent, 29 per cent of U.K. citizens support a similar travel ban for the U.K. Bercow went on to suggest that he would refuse to invite the U.S. president to speak at Westminster, and that the opportunity to speak in the prestigious Westminster Hall “is not an automatic right [but]an earned honour.”
Bercow’s unprecedented actions were met with mixed responses. While many viewed his comments as admirable, others have responded with anger, arguing that he has breached his position of power. According to The Independent, a few cabinet ministers even expressed suspicion as to Bercow’s motives given that he commented on the issue so publicly. It is unusual for a neutral Speaker to moralize on such a topic, and one unnamed minister told The Daily Telegraph that they even thought Mr. Bercow had orchestrated the episode to secure his backing for another term as Speaker.
Many MPs lauded Bercow, commending him on the courage of his convictions. According to The Independent, after concluding his speech Veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner calmly stated, “Further to that point of order, two words: well done.”
Additionally, Labour party politician Yvette Cooper stated that Trump was “continuing his assault on the democratic values that the British Parliament holds dear.”
She went on to say that, while it was fine to invite him to the U.K., President Trump should not be granted the “special privilege of an address in the heart of our democracy.”
However, Bercow’s actions were also met by much anger from other MPs and ministers, who claim that he has overstepped his position. Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said that he and his colleagues were both taken back and agitated by Bercow’s comments.
“He’s completely overstepped the mark. It was a pre-emptive strike to torpedo the leader of the democratically free world and our greatest ally from speaking in parliament,” he said drawing reference to the paramount importance of a U.K.-U.S. trade deal, writes The Guardian.
Bercow’s actions are particularly significant considering the fact that Downing Street officials have had their sights set on building strong relations with the newly elected U.S. president. The Independent reported that May’s persistent advocacy of a “bridge” between the two administrations has been an important tenet in many of her recent speeches, in which she has encouraged an unification of the new administration with the European powers, a move other leaders have been wary to accept. With the British population very divided over the recent populist rhetoric, the disagreement and tension between May’s and Bercow’s stances only increases the complexity of the politics.
At this time, the international dynamic is a tense one, dominated by uncertainty, rocky relationships, and the need for global reconciliation. However, as the case in Parliament shows, it might also be prudent to reconcile domestic problems while remedying international ones. Whether or not the two nations will find common grounds remains to be seen.