Britain abandons plans for Donald Trump to address parliament: Report

Officials are trying to ensure that Trump (above) is not in London at a time when parliament is sitting.
Officials are trying to ensure that Trump (above) is not in London at a time when parliament is sitting.PHOTO: EPA

LONDON - The British government has abandoned the idea of US President Donald Trump addressing parliament when he visits later this year (2017) and is trying to fix a date when parliament will be in recess to avoid a formal snub.

According to a Guardian report, quoting sources, Trump's controversial visit is now expected to run from a Thursday to a Sunday in late summer or early autumn.

A weekend visit at the very end of August or in September is now under discussion between the government, Buckingham Palace and the White House, the British newspaper said.

A British source described such a plan as “the preferred option at our end”.

Parliament will be in summer recess until Sept 5 and adjourns again for political party conferences on Sept 15 for nearly a month. Such an arrangement would mean that Trump would not be invited to address parliament at all, the Guardian said.

The Speaker of parliament's lower house, the House of  Commons, John Bercow, has stated that he will not give his consent to a speech by the President either in Westminster Hall or in the royal gallery - both of which have traditionally been used for addresses by visiting statesmen and women. The idea of Trump addressing Parliament has elicited strong protests from some MPs.

Officials are also said to be keen to limit the President’s public exposure more generally during the visit, in order to reduce the opportunities for protests and disorder on a state occasion, said the Guardian.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters could be expected in any large city, causing major headaches for the emergency and security services. This suggests that the President will spend relatively little time in London, while the majority of the visit will be conducted behind as strict a security cordon as possible.

A further issue that still needs to be resolved is the extent to which Britain's Queen Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, will be involved in a visit of which, officially at least, she is the host. The couple, who are both now in their 90s, normally spend late August and September at Balmoral castle in Scotland and only rarely return to London during their stay.

One possibility, is that Trump could be invited to a state banquet at Windsor Castle, rather than at Buckingham Palace. This would be easier to guard against protesters and would cause less disruption, while satisfying the necessary protocols, said the Guardian.

Trump might be encouraged to spend a significant part of his visit in Scotland, perhaps visiting the Queen at Balmoral rather than in England, and enabling him to visit the Isle of Lewis, where his mother, Mary MacLeod, was born in 1912, before she left for the US as an immigrant. Trump also owns two golf courses in Scotland, Turnberry in Ayrshire and a purpose-built course at Balmedie north of Aberdeen.

Any visit to Scotland would raise delicate political issues for the nationalist government in Scotland led by Nicola Sturgeon, which would have to decide whether to boycott Trump or not. Scottish National party MPs at Westminster broke into applause at Bercow’s statement this week (Feb 6), But Scotland’s former first minister Alex Salmond told an LBC radio phone-in this month that he favoured the President coming to Balmoral.

Invitations to deliver an address in the royal gallery normally require the Speakers of the Commons and the upper House of Lords, currently Bercow and Lord Fowler, to agree, while invitations to Westminster Hall also involve the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Marquess of Cholmondeley.

On Monday, Bercow made clear he would not support an invitation at either venue, triggering calls from some backbenchers for him to step down.

Two of Trump’s modern predecessors as president, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, have addressed the joint houses in the royal gallery. Only Barack Obama, in 2011, has made a speech in the 11th-century Westminster Hall.

Even before Bercow’s intervention, government ministers are believed to have concluded that the level of objection among MPs of all parties after Trump’s executive order banning arrivals from seven mainly Muslim countries made a parliamentary invitation too politically hazardous to justify.

The leader of the Commons, David Lidington, is said to have reached this conclusion before the Speaker made his own opposition public in the chamber on Monday.