Britain divided over Donald Trump state visit
As the Queen rolls out the red carpet for Donald Trump today, a bitter row has opened up between those who think the honour is right and those who condemn it as hypocritical and immoral.
As we go to press this morning, Donald Trump is set to arrive in Britain in just a few minutes. His state visit has all the signs of a strange and tense occasion.
Opinion polls suggest the US president is widely unpopular in the UK. There are likely to be anti-Trump demonstrations in London. And some important political figures, including the leaders of two big opposition parties, and John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, have declined invitations to the state banquet in his honour.
Trump also arrives in Britain in the middle of a political crisis. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, is about to leave office — and her successor has yet to be determined. Many are pointing out that this is not an ideal moment for delicate diplomacy.
But the British are historically good at keeping up appearances. Trump will certainly be served generous helpings of pomp and ceremony when he visits Portsmouth as part of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Critics of Trump are already complaining that it is wrong to recognise the US president in this fashion. But others say they are mistaken. The counter view is that state visits are designed to honour a country, not an individual — the clue is in the name. The US has been Britain’s closest ally since the 1940s and is likely to continue to play that role, long after Trump has left office.
So, they say, it is completely correct for the British state to welcome the president of the US, with an appropriate fanfare. If Queen Elizabeth II can receive President Xi Jinping of China, she can certainly honour Trump.
Opponents of the visit say we can’t ignore the fact that Trump’s “America first” agenda has opened up a series of divisions between Washington and London on vital international issues. These include the Iran nuclear deal, the Middle East peace process, the Paris climate accord and the future of the World Trade Organisation.
Collectively, these disagreements point to a profound difference of opinion about the importance of international law and treaties.
Perhaps the most significant divergence concerns western relations with China.
So far, the UK has refused to join America’s campaign against Huawei. The British are open to incorporating Huawei into aspects of the country’s 5G network and still dream of a “golden era” in UK-Chinese economic relations.
But the Trump administration has made clear that the Huawei issue could damage the sharing of secret intelligence that lies at the heart of the famous special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.
This visit is a horrible spectacle says The Guardian, “fulfilling the social aspirations of Trump and all his grim entourage: to be feted with the high ritual and honorifics reserved for the world’s political elite”. It is absolutely typical that Britain should behave hypocritically in celebrating a man who has done so much that we should condemn.
Trump deserves a state visit to the UK, says The Financial Times. The daily interchange between Britain and America remains intense, spanning everything from finance and transport to security and the arts. “This week’s state visit is unlikely to go down as a high point in US-UK relations. But it is far too soon to play the Last Post for the special relationship.”
- Is it silly to protest about Donald Trump’s visit?
- Is a state visit more about a person or a country?
- Using the Expert Links, write a brief description of a state visit and what it means.
- Read the Expert Links and think about the pros and cons of this state visit. List them in two columns. Share them with your class and create a single master list of arguments for both sides, ranked in order of most persuasive points.
Some People Say...
“It’s so un-British to be rolling out the red carpet this week for a formal state visit by a president whose divisive behaviour flies in the face of the ideals America was founded upon: equality, liberty and religious freedom.”Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Today, there will be a ceremonial welcome attended by the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in the Buckingham Palace garden. After the welcome, the Duke of Sussex will join the group for a private lunch. Then the Trumps will visit Westminster Abbey for a tour before tea with Prince Charles and a state banquet.
- What do we not know?
- How big the protests will be. Campaigners have claimed they will mobilise “huge numbers” in response to Mr Trump’s arrival. Supporters of the human rights charity Amnesty have said they will unfurl five banners facing the US embassy on Vauxhall Bridge, reading: “Resist sexism”, “Resist racism”, “Resist hate”, “Resist cruelty” and “Resist Trump”. A 16-ft talking robot of Mr Trump sitting on a golden toilet is also expected to make an appearance.
- Two big opposition parties
- Both Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, and Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, have turned down invitations to the state banquet at Buckingham Palace.
- “America first”
- This refers to a foreign policy in the United States that emphasises American nationalism and unilateralism — in other words, the USA acting more selfishly in its own interests, rather than attempting to be the “world’s policeman”.
- Special relationship
- An unofficial term often used to describe the political, diplomatic, cultural, economic, military, and historical relations between the UK and the US. The term first came into popular usage after it was used in a 1946 speech by Winston Churchill.