Theresa May refuses to back Speaker John Bercow over banning Donald Trump address to Parliament in UK state visit

The Prime Minister's spokesperson said the issue was a matter for Parliament

Tom Peck
Tuesday 07 February 2017 13:48 GMT
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Speaker John Bercow says he would oppose a speech to the House of Commons by Donald Trump

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Theresa May has declined to give her “full confidence” in John Bercow, after his extraordinary attack on Donald Trump in the House of Commons on Monday, when the Speaker said the US President would not be welcome to address Parliament in his upcoming state visit.

Mr Bercow told the House of Commons that he was “strongly opposed” to the President addressing Parliament, and an invite to do so was “not an automatic right” but an “earned honour”.

Asked for her reaction to Mr Bercow’s remarks, her spokesperson said: “What John Bercow suggests to Parliament is a matter for Parliament.

“What I will set out is our position, which is we’ve extended this invitation to the President and we look forward to receiving him later this year.”

Amid calls for Mr Bercow to resign from his post over the incident, the spokesperson was asked if the Prime Minister had “full confidence” in the speaker, who said: “The speaker is an issue for Parliament.”

Asked if Mrs May agreed with Mr Bercow's characterisation of Mr Trump as a racist and a sexist, the spokesman said: “In terms of these issues on comments that the President has made in the past, I think the PM herself has addressed that and I can point you to the words that she has used in the past.”

Mr Bercow has since defended his comments, insisting they were made “honestly and honourably” and were within his remit.

Earlier in the day, Ms May’s Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, criticised Mr Bercow, saying: “He doesn’t speak for Government.”

“The Government is very clear. President Trump is the leader of our most important ally, and it’s manifestly in our national interest that we reach out to him, we work with him and that he visits us in the UK.”

The comments, to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, reflected alarm that the Prime Minister’s strident efforts to forge a close relationship with the Trump administration had been undermined.

And they came amid a wider backlash from Tory MPs against Mr Bercow, despite the applause in the chamber for his extraordinary attack on Mr Trump on Monday.

Iraqi-born Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi, who sharply criticised Mr Trump's travel ban after learning he could be caught up in it, suggested the Speaker was a hypocrite and should consider resigning.

He pointed out that Mr Bercow had rolled out the red carpet for Chinese president Xi Jinping, despite his policy on Tibet, and for the emir of Kuwait, which bans British dual nationals of Israeli origin.

Mr Zahawi said: “I think it is, in my book, unwise and he opens himself up to the accusation of hypocrisy, that’s my point.

“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.”

Despite criticism from the Conservative benches, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backed the Speaker, saying Mr Bercow was “absolutely right” to speak out.

The Speaker of the House of Lords, one of three "keyholders" to Westminster Hall together with Mr Bercow and the Lord Chamberlain, refused to get drawn into the debate, but said he would keep an "open mind" about any request made.

Speaking in the Lords, Lord Fowler said: “My view is that I will keep an open mind and consider any request for Mr Trump to address Parliament if and when it is made. I do not intend to argue a case for or against Mr Trump’s visit – that is not my role as Speaker.

“But allow me to say I’ve spent the past 30 years campaigning against prejudice and discrimination, particularly for the rights of LGBT people and those with HIV/Aids.

“There will be other leaders coming to this country who may also be controversial,” he added. “The procedure as it stands means that either Mr Speaker or myself can effectively veto any proposal for a visiting to address Parliament at least as far Westminster Hall is concerned.

Lord Fowler said that when Speakers receive a request to invite a head of state to address Parliament they “both have to agree to issue an invitation after consultation”.

“The whole purpose is to seek consensus ensuring that both Houses have the opportunity to consider a request. In the Commons Mr Bercow said he was opposed to the President speaking. I should make it clear that I was not consulted on that decision or its timing,” he said.

Lord Fowler added, however, that Mr Bercow had contacted him earlier on Tuesday. “He told me that while he maintained his view on the issue he was generally sorry for failing to consult with me. Obviously I accepted that apology.”

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said no formal details had been made with regard to Mr Trump's visit. Mr Bercow was speaking with specific regard to whether Mr Trump should be granted the opportunity to address both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall, an honour that is rarely bestowed on visiting heads of state.

But almost all state visits involve some form of address to parliamentarians somewhere on the parliamentary estate.

The Speaker of the House is appointed and voted on by MPs, a process in which the Government has no role.

The next speaker, who is expected to be appointed next year, will be elected by secret ballot.

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