John Bercow is facing calls to resign as Commons Speaker after he ruled Donald Trump would be banned from speaking in parliament when he visits the United Kingdom.
In an unprecedented intervention, Bercow yesterday said Trump’s “racism” and “sexism” was not welcome.
The move was welcomed by Opposition MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn who said British politicians should “stand up for our country’s values”.
But many Conservatives believe Bercow has overstepped his bounds and breached his duty to be politically neutral.
Conservative communities secretary Sajid Javid this morning defended the invite and said while Bercow “speaks his mind” he “does not speak for the government”.
“The government is very clear, President Trump is the leader of our most important ally. He’s elected fairly and squarely and it’s manifestly in our national interest we reach out to him, work with him and he visits us in the UK,” he said.
Tory backbencher Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the Speaker should “think about his position”.
And Conservative backbencher 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.
Asked if Theresa May had confidence in Bercow as Speaker, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “The Speaker is an issue for Parliament.”
Bercow’s critics have questioned why he has banned Trump, but permitted leaders such as Chinese president Xi Jinping to address parliament.
Crispin Blunt, the Conservative chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said there would likely be “consequences” for Bercow and that as an impartial Speaker he should “keep himself above” the political arguments over Trump.
And 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.
But 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.
Zahawi, who was born in Iraq, was hit by Trump’s travel ban on people from seven majority-Muslim countries.
But he said it was counterproductive for Bercow to “take a political position so blatantly against” Trump when the British government was trying to encourage the president “not to shoot from the hip, not to ban people, to exercise restraint, look at evidence”.
“I am against the travel ban, especially for banning refugees from Syria who are desperate, who have been vetted - but it’s unwise to ban the legitimately elected president of the United States of America, our closest ally when we’re trying to urge them not to shoot from the hip, not to ban people, to exercise restraint, look at evidence. Yet we are now, or at least the Speaker of Parliament, who has a big, big responsibility, is now sort of talking the language of bans,” he said.
Sajid Javid: John Bercow does not speak for the government
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.