UK House of Commons speaker 'strongly opposed' to letting Trump address Parliament

John Bercow, the Speaker of the lower house, said Monday that he opposes US President Trump addressing Parliament during a state visit.

Matt Dunham/AP/File
Britain's Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, walks through Central Lobby before Britain's Queen Elizabeth II delivered the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster in London in 2014.

In an unusual set of remarks to Britain’s House of Commons, the typically apolitical speaker got political about President Trump on Monday, saying he does not support the US president addressing both houses of Parliament during a state visit later this year.

Speaker John Bercow cited Mr. Trump’s immigration ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries as one of the reasons for his opposition. The speaker is one of three officials who decides who can be invited to speak to Parliament, making such an address by Trump highly unlikely.

It’s not unprecedented for a US president to not address the full parliament in Westminster Hall, the venue typically used for grand occasions of state, according to CNN. Neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush did. In 2011, in fact, Barack Obama became the first president to do so in a speech in the parliamentary palace's oldest building, which has also hosted South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and France’s Charles de Gaulle.

What is unprecedented, however, is Mr. Bercow stepping out of his neutral role as speaker, joining more than 160 other members of Parliament in opposing Trump and his policies.

"An address by a foreign leader to both houses of parliament is not an automatic right. It is an earned honor," said Bercow. He later added, "As far as this place is concerned, I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support to equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons."

Bercow said he already opposed letting Trump address Parliament before the president signed an executive order last month temporarily barring refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

"After the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump, I am even more strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall," said Bercow.

Bercow’s speech in the Common’s chamber was met with applause and cheers.

But at least one prominent British politician wasn’t pleased with Bercow. Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party, whom Trump had pushed Britain to nominate as ambassador to Washington, said the speaker "should be neutral.”

As speaker, Bercow isn’t forbidden from expressing his political views. But it is customary for him to remain above the partisan fray, according to Erskine May, a treatise on Parliament rules.

"The chief characteristics to the office of Speaker in the House of Commons are authority and impartiality," reads the text, according to The Guardian.

"Confidence in the impartiality of the Speaker is an indispensable condition of the successful working of procedure," it goes on. "He takes no part in debate either in the house or in committee."

But at least a quarter of the House of Commons stands with Bercow. A motion signed by more than 160 MPs calls on the Speaker to not allow Trump to address Westminster Hall. The other two officials who decide whether to extend an invitation to a speaker are the Speaker of the House of Lords and the Lord Great Chamberlain, according to The Telegraph.

"This house deplores recent actions taken by US President Donald J Trump, including his executive order on immigration and refugees, and notably his comments on torture and women," reads the motion, according to The Guardian.

But several government officials told The Guardian that Bercow’s intervention as it relates to the motion are "hugely political and out of line."

Those sources also told The Guardian that Trump is not even interested in addressing Westminster Hall.

"The indication is he wants high-visibility visits with key members of the royal family," they said, saying the focus of the visit would be on parades, the military, and a ceremonial guard.

Bercow’s comments come after several notable female MPs vowed to boycott a Trump address if he is invited to speak to Parliament, according to The Guardian.

"I could not be there clapping a man who is a self-confessed groper," Former Deputy Labour Party Leader Harriet Herman told the Observer. "His views on many issues are unacceptable. And on foreign policy he seems to think he can just bully other countries and get his way. That we should sit there smiling and clapping is... well for me it is out of the question."

Parliament is expected to respond later this month to a petition opposing not just a Trump address to Westminster Hall, but also his visit to the country. The petition, now signed by more than 1.8 million Britons, calls for the president’s state visit to be canceled or downgraded to avoid embarrassing Queen Elizabeth. A counter petition has garnered 100,000 signatures, according to CNN. 

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May invited Trump to the country when she visited the White House last month. The exact date and details of the visit have not been announced.  

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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