World First Look

How will Queen Elizabeth handle Donald Trump's first visit as president?

Trump's planned visit to Britain puts Queen Elizabeth in an awkward position, as normally she does not meet with heads of state so early in their tenure.

The leading groom gestures as the procession with Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos arrive by carriage at Buckingham Palace in London, Nov. 1, 2016. The invitation to US President Donald Trump for a state visit, one of the highest honors it can bestow on a visiting statesman where the queen acts as personal hostess with the traditional pomp and ceremony involved, has provoked a passionate debate.
Alastair Grant/AP/File
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President Trump may have put Queen Elizabeth II in an awkward position by accepting an invitation for a state visit to Britain sometime in June.

The queen has hosted all kinds of world leaders during her reign, and US presidents are no exception. But following Mr. Trump's recent controversial executive orders, worldwide protests have left many questioning whether he should have been invited for the state visit at all.

While presidents often travel to Britain within a few months of entering office, official state visits, with all the pomp and circumstance that comes with meeting the royal family, usually occur only after the president has been in office for at least two years. President Obama, for example, had to wait 28 months before his state visit, and President George W. Bush had been in office for 32 months before his visit rolled around.

Trump, by comparison, will only have to wait about 5 months for the honor.

The announcement of the state visit by Prime Minister Theresa May during her visit to the White House last week has drawn considerable ire in Britain in recent days, as protesters turned out en masse to decry recent Trump's temporarily halted executive order to ban travelers from seven predominately-Muslim countries from entering the US.

In a letter to The Times of London, Lord Ricketts, a former permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, questioned whether Trump is "specially deserving of this exceptional honor."

"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," he added. "Now the Queen is put in a very difficult position."

A petition to Parliament to stop Trump's state visit has gained more than 1.6 million signatures at the time of writing, more than meeting the required 10,000 signatures for the measure to be debated in Parliament. A counter-petition to allow Trump's state visit will also be debated, but at the time of writing has only garnered around120,000 signatures.

The decision to invite Trump so early for a state visit came at a time soon after the election when Trump seemed to be bonding with Nigel Farage, a significant leader in the Brexit movement and former head of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). The center-right Conservative government reportedly wanted to insert itself between the anti-establishment figure and the new US president as soon as possible. 

While the highlight of the state visit is the act of meeting the royal family, the invitation for the event is usually extended based on the recommendation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, rather than on the prerogative of the queen herself. As such, the visit is more of a diplomatic tool for Parliament, rather than a setting for hard-hitting political negotiations.

"The Queen is the key here. She's not a secret weapon, she's the biggest public weapon you have," an anonymous cabinet source told The Guardian. "Nigel Farage can't get [Trump] in front of the Queen."

This would not be the first time the Queen has hosted controversial figures, including dictators like Romania's former leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

"The United States is a close ally of the United Kingdom. We work together across many areas of mutual interest and we have that special relationship between us," Prime Minister May said in a press conference on Tuesday. "I have issued that invitation for a state visit for President Trump to the United Kingdom and that invitation stands."