Commons Speaker John Bercow is one of just three people who could refuse Donald Trump the honour of delivering a speech in the UK Parliament’s historic Westminster Hall, HuffPost UK has learned.
Theresa May is already facing calls to postpone the US President’s State Visit later this year following the backlash over his plans to ban travellers from seven ‘Muslim majority’ countries.
But even if the trip goes ahead, Trump will not be allowed to use the medieval chamber to address both Houses of Parliament without the prior permission of Bercow, Lords Speaker Lord Fowler and a Royal official, the Great Lord Chamberlain.
The three men are the official “keyholders” for events in Westminster Hall, the which dates from the 11th century and is the oldest part of the Royal Palace of Westminster.
Only a select few world statesmen and women have been granted the honour of addressing the Commons and the Lords under the magnificent hammer-beam roof of the Hall, among them Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.
Westminster Hall has a central role in British history, from Richard II’s removal as king to the trial of King Charles I. It served as the location for the lying-in-state of Winston Churchill, several monarchs and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
Others, including Presidents Reagan and Clinton, have instead spoken in the Royal Gallery. In another notch down the pecking order, yet other leaders have had to address Parliament from the Queen’s Robing Room in the Lords.
But with Barack Obama having been allowed to make his own speech in Westminster Hall in 2011, any failure to follow suit for Trump would be seen as a huge diplomatic snub.
Following Trump’s travel ban, more than a million people have signed an online petition demanding that he be barred from making a State Visit, to spare the Queen any embarrassment.
Several MPs have taken a different tack and instead of an outright ban have called for him to be denied the honour of Westminster Hall and relegated to speaking in the House of Lords Royal Gallery.
In a heated Commons statement on Monday, Labour MP Dennis Skinner said that Trump was as “fascist” and “not fit to walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela”.
Another Labour MP Mike Gapes referred to “Theresa The Appeaser”, and Bercow said his remarks were “a matter of taste”, but didn’t break Parliamentary rules.
When challenged by Labour’s Chris Bryant on the idea of a joint address to both Houses of Parliament, Johnson said the details of the trip “had yet to be determined”.
If the Government decides it wants to use Westminster Hall for the event, it will have to consult the “keyholders”: Speaker Bercow, former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Fowler and the Great Lord Chamberlain.
David Cholmondeley, 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, is the current occupant of the Royal post and would represent the interest of the Queen.
Under Parliamentary protocol, the trio do not have to consult others on their decision, and Bercow could be under huge pressure from fellow MPs to refuse the request.
Lord Speaker Lord Fowler, like Bercow, has a long history of campaigning for human rights and equalities. If the Westminster Hall request is refused, the decision on using the Lords Royal Gallery or Queen’s Robing Room would be made not by the Commons Speaker.
Tory MP Sarah Wollaston called this weekend for Trump to be denied the honour, pointing out that it should be “reserved for leaders who have made an outstanding positive difference in the world”.
During the Commons statement on Monday, Labour MP David Winnick also urged Johnson to prevent Trump from using Westminster Hall.
The Foreign Secretary defended the decision to invite the US President for the State Visit, but he did hint that the venue of his address to the Houses of Parliament could be swayed by MPs’ opinions.
“I’m sure that the mood of the chamber of the House of Commons would be reflected in discussions about how the visit is to go ahead,” Johnson told MPs.
He added however that “there is no reason why he should not be accorded a State Visit - and every reason he should”.