The speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, has made himself unpopular (again) with a number of Tory MPs for announcing that he will not allow Donald Trump to address the Commons if and when he makes a state visit to the UK later this year. That he is has been invited as soon as he took office is a scandal; previous US presidents who made state visits did so after years in office. But Tory MPs insist that he has broken with convention by taking a ‘partisan’ view rather than maintaining neutrality or (as where there is a tie) voting with the government, and that maintaining relations with the “democratically elected leader of our closest ally” is vital.
The fear in the line the Tories are taking in cosying up to Trump is obvious: Britain is about to take a leap in the dark and once we have isolated ourselves from Europe, Trump and Putin become the nearest things we will have to friends in the world. Ever since 9/11, British leaders have treated angry and volatile US presidents like angry gods to be appeased at all costs. It is clear that they are doing this as a display of subservience, not because they really want to honour him. And I would dispute the suggestion that the Americans are really our ‘closest ally’ anyway; that title should surely go to our neighbours, who allow British citizens to freely live and work there. The US does not.
Many are calling Bercow a hypocrite for refusing to allow Trump to address Parliament but allowing some outright dictators such as the Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The difference is that Xi never claimed to be anything other than the leader of a Communist state; he governs as part of the system he inherited from his predecessors. Trump is introducing the characteristics of fascism and tyranny to what was previously a representative democracy with at least nominal respect for the rule of law (though some citizens did not enjoy it fully). A ruler who threatens a democracy is not comparable to one who never claimed to believe in or practise democracy, at least as it is known of here.
The issue which should prevent Trump from addressing Parliament is not his view on the Trans-Pacific Partnership or even immigration. It is his attitude to — his contempt for — the rule of law both before and after his election; his attack on law-abiding legal immigrants designed to appeal to his ignorant voter base, and the threatening language he used towards the judiciary when they frustrated him. Surely, the idea of the rule of law is what peace as we know it is founded on; people’s freedom from capricious expulsion or imprisonment. Until Trump learns to respect this, he has no business addressing any parliament in any democracy.
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