LONDON >> U.S. President Donald Trump should not be afforded the “rare privilege” of a state visit, a British opposition lawmaker said today, as Parliament debated a call for Trump’s invitation to be downgraded and stripped of its royal seal of approval.
The nonbinding debate was called in response to an online petition with more than 1.8 million signatures saying a formal state visit “would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.”
As lawmakers meeting in a side-room of Parliament rather than the House of Commons chamber debated, hundreds of Trump opponents gathered outside to protest.
Opening the debate, Labour Party legislator Paul Flynn pointed out that only two other U.S. presidents — George W. Bush and Barack Obama — have been invited for state visits since the 1950s.
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 Queen Elizabeth II.
Flynn said Trump had shown an “Orwellian” disregard for the truth and behaved “like a petulant child.” He said a state visit would make it appear as if the queen were “approving the acts of Donald J. Trump.”
He urged the Conservative government to “consider this with a bit of humility … and change the invitation to one for a visit, not a state visit.”
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.”
All petitions on the government’s e-petitions website that receive more than 100,000 signatures are eligible for debate in Parliament, though not binding votes.
Lawmakers also considered an opposing petition, with more than 300,000 signatures, backing the state visit.
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.
Flynn replied that Britain should not “try to imitate the errors of the past.”
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 is still on for later this year, though dates have not been announced.
The government said in a statement responding to the petition that the state visit “reflects the importance of the relationship between the United States of America and the United Kingdom.”
“We look forward to welcoming President Trump once dates and arrangements are finalized,” it said.