The Speaker of the House of Commons has become embroiled in the row over Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK after effectively blocking the US president from addressing parliament.
Senior Conservatives expressed anger at the intervention of John Bercow, who said on Monday that Mr Trump’s “racism and sexism” meant that he did not deserve the honour of addressing MPs and peers.
Crispin Blunt, the Conservative MP who chairs the foreign affairs committee, said: “Generally the Speaker, who’s meant to referee all of this, should keep himself above that.”
Others noted that Mr Bercow had previously welcomed foreign leaders including China’s Xi Jinping and the Emir of Qatar. “He ought to think about his position. He should come to parliament and at least explain why he thinks it’s different [to other state visits],” said Nadhim Zahawi, a backbencher who has himself criticised Mr Trump’s travel ban. “He prides himself on his neutrality and speaking for the whole of parliament and I think to become the story is a bad place to be.”
Mr Bercow’s intervention is also likely to have infuriated Theresa May, the prime minister, who took the risk of offering an early state visit partly in the hope of facilitating a speedy US-UK trade deal. “What John Bercow suggests to parliament is a matter for parliament,” a Downing Street spokesman said. “We haven’t actually got into the planning stage [for the state visit].”
Foreign leaders including Barack Obama, Mr Trump’s predecessor, and Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto have all addressed British MPs and peers in recent years.
However, Mr Bercow — a forthright Conservative — told MPs he was “strongly opposed” to Mr Trump being offered a similar invitation. He added he was “even more strongly opposed” after the president’s executive order blocking people from certain countries from entering the US.
“I would not wish to issue an invitation to President Trump to speak in the Royal Gallery,” he continued. “As far as this place [the Commons] is concerned, I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism, and our support for equality before law and an independent judiciary, are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons.”
Joe Wilson, a Republican congressman, told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that Mr Bercow’s interjection was “very disappointing”.
“If ever in recent years there’s been a more pro-British president of the United States, it’s Donald Trump,” he said.
He said Mr Trump had already assured Mrs May over his commitment to Nato, expressed a desire to create UK-US trade relationships and returned a bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office.
Conservative MPs, who have largely supported Mrs May’s accommodation of Mr Trump, sat silently as the Speaker made his comments in a debate on Monday night. But opposition MPs broke out in applause in the chamber, where clapping is normally not permitted.
“Speaker Bercow just cancelled Trump visit to parliament. A proud moment for Commons. Racism and sexism not welcome here,” Harriet Harman, a Labour MP, wrote on Twitter.
Another Labour MP, Wes Streeting, jokingly compared the decision to Mr Trump’s executive order on migration: “Speaker Bercow has decided to check people coming into our Parliament VERY CAREFULLY.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Trump’s trip — expected to take place in the summer or autumn — has proved contentious, with 1.8m people signing an online petition calling for it to be cancelled “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen”.
“An address by a foreign leader to both houses of parliament is not an automatic right, it is an earned honour. Moreover, there are many precedents for state visits to take place to our country which do not include an address to both houses of parliament,” said Mr Bercow, in response to a parliamentary question.
By custom, invitations to address parliament are issued in the name of the Commons Speaker, as well as at least one other official.
For addresses to Westminster Hall, an invitation is usually made by agreement of the Speakers of the House of Lords and the House of Commons and the Lord Great Chamberlain. For addresses from the Royal Gallery, part of the chamber of the House of Lords, invitations have customarily been made in the names of the two Speakers.
Once a rightwing Conservative, Mr Bercow has bemused and infuriated party colleagues by espousing progressive causes and calling ministers to account. In September, he reportedly told schoolchildren that Brexit was “a mistake”.
He was elected as Speaker eight years ago, and initially said he would serve nine years.
Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
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