In an unprecedented act, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow called for President Donald Trump to be barred from addressing Parliament during his upcoming state visit to the UK.
Bercow has a formally nonpartisan role that mainly involves overseeing the debates in the lower house of British Parliament. He’s not supposed to provide political commentary on the matters of the day.
That changed on Monday, when Bercow broke from tradition and waded into the bitter international debate about how longtime US allies should deal with the mercurial new president. Speaking to lawmakers at the House of Commons, Bercow announced that he was “strongly opposed” to letting Trump address Parliament, something that former President Barack Obama did in 2011.
“I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for a equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons,” he said to thunderous applause.
John Bercow bans Trump from parliament: "Our opposition to racism and sexism...are hugely important considerations." pic.twitter.com/kSYGKwygbc— Alan White (@aljwhite) February 6, 2017
Bercow’s statement is far from the only striking sign that a significant swath of the UK is uncomfortable with Trump’s presidency. A petition calling for his state visit to be canceled has received more than 1.8 million signatures so far, and is expected to be debated by lawmakers on February 20.
Can Bercow actually bar Trump from addressing Parliament? That doesn’t appear to be the case. He said that he is one of three “key-holders” that would decide the matter. The others are the speaker of the House of Lords, Lord Fowler, and the Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord Cholmondeley. Bercow made it clear that he would be lobbying against a Trump address, but it’s not clear where they stand on the matter.
State visits don’t always involve an address to Parliament, and in fact, anonymous government sources told the Guardian that the White House didn’t have plans for Trump to give one. “The clear indications are that the White House are not even planning to address both houses of parliament,” the source said.
But Bercow’s comments are making it plain that even if Trump wants to, he may not be welcome. In contrast to the prime minister’s office, who, according to one of the Guardian’s sources, considered the gesture “out of line,” liberal lawmakers were thrilled by Bercow’s departure from tradition.
“Speaker Bercow has decided to check people coming into our Parliament VERY CAREFULLY,” quipped Wes Streeting, a Labour MP, on Twitter, playing off the language Trump has used in his promise to vet refugees entering the US.
It’s more evidence of the speed with which Trump has created a rift between the US and its closest ally. His presidency has just started; the damage it’s doing may far outlast his time in the White House.