Cries of ‘hypocrite’ as Speaker shuns Trump
John Bercow, the House of Commons Speaker, has voiced his opposition to letting President Trump address Parliament. A row has ensued, with many accusing Bercow of applying double standards.
The Queen. The Pope. The Dalai Lama. Barack Obama. Nelson Mandela.
But not Donald Trump.
On Monday, John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons said that ‘our opposition to racism and sexism, and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary’ means that he does not think Donald Trump should address Westminster Hall as part of his proposed state visit to the UK later this year.
One side of the chamber burst into applause. The grizzled 84 year-old Labour MP Dennis Skinner stood up to say: ‘Two words: well done.’ The government benches sat in stony silence.
Bercow’s intervention struck a blow for the millions deeply concerned at Trump’s policies.
But many are furious with the Speaker’s comments. One cabinet minister accused him of ‘damaging the national interest’ so soon after Theresa May’s visit to Washington, DC. US Congressman Joe Wilson called it a ‘slap’ to Trump’s Republican Party. The Telegraph’s leader said that ‘Bercow does not speak for Britain, just for his own monstrous ego’.
There have even been calls for the Speaker to quit.
The Speaker is an MP elected by other MPs to preside over business in the House of Commons and ensure the rules are observed. When elected the Speaker ceases to be involved in party politics and is required to be impartial.
He is one of the three ‘key holders’ to Westminster Hall, along with the Speaker of the House of Lords, who has insisted on ‘keeping an open mind’ on the prospect of Trump speaking, and the Lord Great Chamberlain. All three must agree in order for an address to take place there.
As soon as Bercow made his position clear, opponents pelted him with cries of ‘hypocrite!’.
They cited a speech in Parliament by Xi Jinping, the leader of China — a country with an enormously worse human rights record than the USA.
In 2012 Bercow said it was a ‘privilege’ to welcome the Emir of Kuwait — one of many Arab countries that bans Israelis and imprisons homosexuals.
Is the charge of hypocrisy fair?
‘What absurd double standards’, say some. People are free to object to some of Trump’s policies but to treat him as a pariah while rolling out the red carpet for sinister dictators is blatantly hypocritical. It calls into question Bercow’s motives: does he really object to bad people, or did he just want to grab the headlines by appearing virtuous?
But Labour MP Yvette Cooper disagrees. She says that the fundamental difference between Trump and Xi Jinping is ‘direction of travel’. Trump is trying to make a free country more authoritarian; Xi, by encouraging international trade, is doing the exact opposite. In other words, Parliament should welcome reformers and shun reactionaries.
- Is John Bercow guilty of hypocrisy?
- Are you in favour of Donald Trump’s proposed state visit to Britain?
- Instead of Donald Trump or the Pope giving a speech in Parliament, it is you. Write a five minute speech explaining the primary concerns of people like you.
- Design a banner either supporting Trump’s visit to the UK or opposing it.
Some People Say...
“Neutrality is overrated.”
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Q & A
- Does it really matter whether someone gives a speech?
- Trump’s visit to the UK and the fierce opposition to it from some Britons could spark a diplomatic crisis. That could potentially harm trade and security co-operation between the two countries. And then there is the moral question of whether you are willing to welcome someone despite disliking their beliefs and their actions. That question reaches beyond politics.
- What are state visits?
- The Queen welcomes foreign leaders on the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Offices about twice a year. Visits usually last a few days and include a number of formal events, including a state banquet on the first night. The most recent state visit to the UK was made by Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia.
- It is customary not to applaud in the House of Commons; MPs who clap are usually given a stern warning.
- Party politics
- Bercow was elected as Conservative MP for Buckingham. No major party runs against the Speaker at a general election. The Speaker must resign from a political party but continues an MP’s constituency duties.
- Lord Great Chamberlain
- A hereditary peer in charge of certain parts of the Palace of Westminster.
- Human rights record
- China executes more than 3,000 people every year, easily more than the rest of the world combined. It has forced labour camps, called Laogai, and has a history of imprisoning journalists and political dissidents.
- An aristocratic or noble title used in a various countries in the Middle East. The Emir of Kuwait is, in effect, the king.
- International trade
- In January Xi Jinping defended globalisation in a speech to the World Economic Forum. Many pointed out the peculiarity of a situation where the president of the capitalist USA invokes protectionism and the leader of China, an officially Communist country, advocates international trade.