POLITICS

John Bercow Defends Speech Banning Donald Trump From Parliament

Commons Speaker told his position is 'untenable'

07/02/2017 15:03

John Bercow has defended his decision to ban Donald Trump from speaking in parliament after he received a barrage of criticism from Tory MPs.

In an unprecedented intervention, the Commons Speaker yesterday said Trump’s “racism” and “sexism” was not welcome. 

Defending the move today, Bercow told the Commons he had acted “honestly and honourably” as well as entirely within his powers.

The pre-emptive ban on Trump speaking in parliament was welcomed by opposition MPs including Jeremy Corbyn.

But many Conservatives believe the Speaker overstepped his bounds and breached his duty to be politically neutral.

Both the Commons and Lords Speakers have to agree to any speech in parliament’s Westminster Hall.

Lord Fowler, the Lords Speaker, confirmed this afternoon Bercow had not consulted him before vetoing any speech by Trump and had since apologised.

In a rebuke to Bercow, Lord Fowler told peers there was a probably a “better way” for such decisions to be made.

“I will keep an open mind and consider any request from Mr Trump to address parliament if and when it is made,” he said.

Lord Fowler said it was not his job to comment on Trump’s politics, but added: “I’ve spent last 30 years campaign against prejudice and discrimination, particularly for the rights of LGBT people and those with HIV/Aids.”

Carlos Barria / Reuters
Donald Trump is welcomed as he speaks to commanders and coalition representatives during a visit to U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, U.S., February 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Conservative communities secretary Sajid Javid this morning defended Theresa May’s decision to offer Trump a full state visit to London and said Bercow “does not speak for the government”.

Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the Speaker should “think about his position” and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said Bercow should be “now thinking about his future”.

Alec Shelbrooke said while some of Trump’s actions were “unacceptable”, Bercow’s position as Speaker was now “untenable”.

“He is no longer able to independently chair and have support and respect across the House of Commons,” he told the BBC’s Daily Politics.

Former Tory culture secretary John Whittingdale said Bercow’s actions were “damaging the national interest”.

“He did a typical playing to the gallery for as much publicity as possible and in doing so caused deep embarrassment,” he told Sky News.

Bercow’s critics have questioned why he has banned Trump, but permitted leaders such as Chinese president Xi Jinping to address parliament.

Conservative MPs Gerald Howarth and Edward Leigh raised Tory irritation at the intervention directly with Bercow in the Commons this afternoon.

However the Speaker told them: “I was honestly and honourably seeking to discharge my responsibilities to the House.”

Bercow added: “The House has always understood that the chair has a role in these matters.”

Theresa May’s official spokesman said “the Speaker is an issue for Parliament”.

PA/PA Wire
Commons Speaker John Bercow has outlines his opposition to Donald Trump addressing both Houses of Parliament during his forthcoming state visit.

Not all Tories have been critical. Former minister Simon Burns said Bercow was simply “reflecting the view of a significant number of MPs”.

Burns, who has previously branded Bercow “sanctimonious”, said in this case he thought the Speaker was right. “The behaviour of Donald Trump during the presidential election means that he is to my mind appalling,” he told the BBC’s World at One.

But Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said while the prime minister “might wish to kowtow to the nasty misogynist that now sits in the Oval Office” - other British politicians did not. “We do not want him to speak to us.  He is not welcome,” he said.

“Speaking within Parliament is a rare honour, the highest honour we can offer.  In the past we have hosted speeches from leaders in equality, justice and human rights from Mandela to Obama to Aung San Suu Kyi. Trump is not fit to shine their shoes,” Farron said.

Republican congressman Joe Lewis told Newsnight that Bercow had taken “a slap at the Republican Party” with his comments. “If ever in recent years there’s been a more pro-British president of the United States, it’s Donald Trump,” he said.

Nigel Farage, who has sought to build close ties to Trump since his election, last night told a by-election rally in Stoke that what Bercow had done “devalues” the office of Speaker.

“I can scarcely believe that the Speaker of the House of Commons doesn’t want him to set foot inside the Palace of Westminster. This is the most important man in the world. For him to have effectively been accused of being sexist and racist by the Speaker today is the Speaker abusing his position,” he said.

Bercow can not stop Trump’s invite to the UK. But he does have the authority to block him from speaking in the Palace of Westminster, something he said was “is not an automatic right” but “an earned honour”.

The Commons Speaker, along with the Lords Speaker and the Great Lord Chamberlain, is one of the three people who have the power to approve addresses to MPs and peers in Westminster Hall.

Bercow said yesterday “there are many precedents for state visits to take place to our country which do not include an address to both houses of Parliament”.

“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 am even more strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall,” he said.

“We value our relationship with the United States, if a state visit takes place that is way beyond and above the pay grade of the Speaker. However, as far as this place is concerned I feel very strongly that 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.”

His intervention came after 163 MPs - a quarter of the House of Commons - signed an early day motion objecting to any bid to allow Trump to address to both Houses of Parliament.

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