U.S. Markets closed

Amid protests, UK lawmakers debate downgrading Trump visit

JILL LAWLESS
1 / 6
Demonstrators hold placards as they listen to speeches in London, Monday Feb. 20, 2017, during a rally in Parliament Square opposing U.S. President Donald Trump as Members of Parliament debate his planned state visit to the United Kingdom. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

LONDON (AP) — Thousands of protesters against U.S. President Donald Trump rallied outside Britain's Parliament on Monday, while lawmakers inside urged the government to rescind its offer to the president of a state visit stamped with pomp, pageantry and royal approval.

In a passionate debate that's unlikely to change the British government's position, Trump was labeled a misogynist, a bigot and a "petulant child" by opposition legislators. They argued that a state visit planned for later this year will demean the U.K. and Queen Elizabeth II, the president's official host.

Conservative lawmakers, however, said revoking the invitation would do far more harm. Tory lawmaker Edward Leigh said canceling the state visit would be "catastrophic" to the trans-Atlantic relationship.

"He is the duly elected president of the United States. ... It would be a disaster if this invitation is rescinded," Leigh said.

Monday's debate was called after more than 1.8 million people signed an online petition calling for the state visit to be downgraded.

All petitions on the government's website that receive more than 100,000 signatures are eligible for debate in Parliament, though not a binding vote. Lawmakers on Monday also considered an opposing petition, with more than 300,000 signatures, backing the state visit.

No formal vote was held at the end of the three-hour debate, which took place in a side-room of Parliament rather than the House of Commons chamber. The chants of protesters outside could be heard as lawmakers spoke.

Labour Party legislator Tulip Siddiq said Trump should not be allowed to spread "his bigotry, his misogyny, his division" in Britain. Another Labour lawmaker, Daniel Zeichner, called the president "a disgusting, immoral man."

"We do not welcome bigots," he said.

Labour's Paul Flynn pointed out that a state visit was a "rare privilege" given to only two other U.S. presidents since the 1950s — George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

State visits are distinct from official visits, and see foreign leaders welcomed with royal pomp and military ceremony. Most stay at Buckingham Palace as guests of the monarch, and Flynn said a state visit would make it appear as if the queen were "approving the acts of Donald J. Trump" — a man Flynn said had behaved "like a petulant child."

Both Bush and Obama made their state visits several years into their tenures. Prime Minister Theresa May invited Trump a week after his Jan. 20 inauguration.

Some lawmakers said May's haste to bolster the trans-Atlantic "special relationship" as the U.K. prepares to leave the European Union had an edge of desperation.

"We didn't do this for Kennedy," Labour lawmaker David Lammy said. "We didn't do this for Truman. We didn't do this for Reagan. But for this man, after seven days, we say 'Please come and we will lay on everything because we are so desperate for your company?'... I am ashamed that it has come to this."

During her 65-year reign, Elizabeth has welcomed many leaders with less-than-spotless records, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and the late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. A 2015 state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping drew protests from Tibetan groups and human rights activists.

Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg said critics of Trump's pending visit were being hypocritical.

"What complaint did the honorable member make when Emperor Hirohito came here?" he asked Flynn.

The Japanese emperor's 1971 state visit was highly controversial at the time. But Trump's invitation has sparked unprecedented opposition, especially after he issued an executive order temporarily barring citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States. The order has since been suspended by U.S. courts.

Thousands of people demonstrated against the order in British towns and cities, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan urged the government to reconsider its invitation in light of Trump's "cruel" migrant ban.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow set aside his customary political neutrality to say that Trump should not be invited to address Parliament when he comes to Britain.

The government insists Trump's visit will take place, though dates have not been announced.

"We believe it is absolutely right that we should use all the tools at our disposal to build common ground with President Trump," Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan told lawmakers.

"The visit should happen, the visit will happen," he added. "And when it does I trust the United Kingdom will extend a polite and generous welcome to President Donald Trump."