World Europe

After millions sign petitions, British lawmakers debate Trump's state visit

British Parliament debated two petitions Monday: one calling to rescind a state visit invitation extended to President Trump, and another urging them to keep the plans.  

President Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May walk along the colonnades of the White House in Washington in January. British lawmakers held a debate Monday in London to consider a call to deny Mr. Trump an official state visit to the UK, but the Conservative government insists the invitation remains firmly in place.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File | Caption

Parliament debated Monday whether or not to rescind a state visit invitation extended to President Trump a week into his presidency, after two competing petitions elevated the issue to the national conversation.

The close relationship between the United States and Britain has sent presidents across the Atlantic to meet with Queen Elizabeth II for decades. But Mr. Trump’s executive order on immigration and his disparaging comments about women and minorities have angered many across Britain, sparking protests and leading some to argue that an official state visit, which is marked by royal pomp and circumstance and is considered a high honor, should not be extended to Trump.

Prime Minister Theresa May invited Trump to London during her visit to Washington, D.C. Critics argue that she acted too soon, and that Britain should wait to determine what kind of president Trump will be before extending a friendly hand to his administration. No US president has ever before been granted a state visit during his first year in office, reported CNN. 

Others see the event as a way to highlight the close ties between the two allies.

Those conflicting views have brought two petitions to Parliament, prompting debates to begin Monday.

The more successful petition, seeking to downscale the invitation from an official state visit thereby excusing the queen from receiving Trump, garnered 1.85 million signatures. The petition supporting Trump's visit got 311,000 signatures.

Any petition that receives more than 100,000 signatures must receive debate time in Parliament. 

The debate is largely symbolic, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office rejected the anti-Trump petition last week.

“HM Government recognises the strong views expressed by the many signatories of this petition, but does not support this petition,” the government announced.

A similar petition last year calling to ban Trump from the country also received enough signatures to merit discussion in Parliament.

But symbolic or not, the debate will shed light the protocol for properly extending state visits, which have not previously occurred this early into a president’s tenure. While leaders often travel to Britain within a few months of entering office, official state visits – distinguished by their meetings with the royal family and traditional celebrations – often occur later in a term. Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush waited more than two years before receiving their official invites.

A state visit is typically centered around a president and first lady meeting with the royal family. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is responsible for making recommendations about whom to invite and when, and the visits are seen as a diplomatic event for Parliament.

As MPs debated the two petitions Monday, some in favor of the visit noted that revoking the invitation could send Britain down an isolationist path.

"I believe it is in our national interest to ensure that we can continue to be a candid friend to the US,” MP Sir Simon Burns argued, reported The Telegraph. "We cannot do that if we totally ignore the US ... we would become isolated and less influential."

Others aired concerns that mirrored the opposing petitioners' views, noting that the unprecedented speed of the visit could appear too friendly or even concerning, given the nature of Trump’s more controversial policies and how they clash with some British ideals.

"We didn't [do] this for Kennedy, we didn't do the for Truman, we didn't do this for Reagan," David Lammy said. "I think this country is greater than that ... I'm ashamed, frankly, that it has come to this."

If the visit were downgraded from a state visit, Trump would no longer receive a ride in the queen's carriage, a Buckingham Palace banquet, or gun salutes.

While MPs debated the petitions, thousands of people gathered outside of Parliament to protest the rhetoric and policies put forth by Trump and his administration. Hosted by the Stop Trump Coalition, the gathering began in Parliament Square Monday afternoon. Similar demonstrations were slated to take place around England in Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff, and Newcastle; and in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“We are calling for a nationwide day of action to stand up and say no to the future of hatred, racism and division that Donald Trump is trying to create – and to say no to the disgraceful complicity of Theresa May and the British government in supporting him,” organizers said, according to the Evening Standard.

As the debate continued into the evening, protesters became loud enough that MPs in the chamber had difficulty hearing speakers, according to The Telegraph. At least one MP went outside to address the protesters.

"We hear that he has been invited for state visit. Whatever you think, a state visit is meant to be an honor," Diane Abbott of the Labour Party told the crowd. "I would say that Donald Trump has done nothing to be honored for."