by Thomas Penny and Robert Hutton
U.S. President Donald Trump must not be allowed to address the U.K. Parliament during a state visit to Britain, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said.
Prime Minister Theresa May invited Trump to visit the U.K., but there have been calls by lawmakers not to give the president the honor of addressing both houses of Parliament after he introduced a ban on people from some majority-Muslim countries traveling to the U.S.
“Before the imposition of the migrant ban I would myself have been strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall; after the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump I’m even more strongly opposed,” Bercow told lawmakers on Monday.
He added, “I feel very strongly our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons.”
Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and world leaders including Nelson Mandela, Angela Merkel and Pope Benedict XVI have all been invited to speak to members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Bercow’s announcement.
The announcement was greeted with cheers and — a rare event in the House of Commons — applause from the opposition benches. A motion arguingthat Trump shouldn’t be invited to speak has been signed by 163 out of Parliament’s 650 members.
Bercow said he has a veto over a speech in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament, and would block one. It would also be a breach with tradition if Trump spoke in the Royal Gallery behind the Lords without his name on the invitation, he said.
“An address by a foreign leader to both houses of Parliament is not an automatic right, it is an earned honor,” Bercow said. “There are many precedents for state visits to take place to our country that do not include an address to both houses of Parliament.”
Bercow made clear he wasn’t going to comment on the merits of inviting Trump to the U.K., something that will be getting its own debate in Parliament on Feb. 20. “We value our relationship with the U.S.” he said. “If a state visit takes place, that is way beyond and above the pay grade of the speaker.”
The Speaker explained to lawmakers that an address in Westminster Hall has to have the agreement of all three “key holders” of the building, where King Charles I stood trial before his execution in 1649. The Lord Speaker of the House of Lords and the Lord Great Chamberlain would have to sign any invitation alongside Bercow, giving him a veto.
For the Royal Gallery, “customarily an invitation to a visiting leader to deliver an address there would be issued in the names of the two speakers,” Bercow told lawmakers. “I would not wish to issue an invitation to President Trump to speak in the Royal Gallery.”
Bercow was a Conservative Party lawmaker before being elected to the independent post of speaker in 2009 and has often been criticized for his love of the limelight. He regularly chides members of the House of Commons for their behavior and there was a failed attempt to unseat him led by former Foreign Secretary William Hague and Chief Whip Michael Gove just before the 2015 general election.
It was not inevitable that Trump would have been invited to address Parliament in any case. Of 109 state visits since Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952, only 26 of the visitors have made speeches to lawmakers in the Palace of Westminster, according to the Hansard Society.