The Speaker of Britain’s House of Commons came under fire from government MPs on Tuesday for saying he was “strongly opposed” to Donald Trump addressing parliament during the US president’s state visit later this year.
John Bercow’s shock tirade on Monday was applauded by many in the opposition ranks but had members of the ruling Conservative Party accusing him of hypocrisy and disregarding his duty of neutrality.
The speaker said such Trump giving a speech was “not an automatic right” and that “opposition to racism and sexism” needed to be considered.
He said he was already against Trump addressing lawmakers in Westminster Hall, and that he was “even more strongly opposed” after the president’s travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries.
But Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi, who has been critical of Trump’s travel ban, said the fact that the speaker had become the story was “a bad place to be”.
He pointed out that the speaker had welcomed Chinese president Xi Jinping, despite human rights concerns, and the emir of Kuwait, which bans British dual nationals of Israeli origin, to speak in parliament.
– ‘Unwise to ban him’ –
“I am against the travel ban… but 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,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Many opposition Labour and Scottish National Party MPs applauded the speech, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backed the speaker on Twitter, calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to cancel the state visit.
The government has insisted the visit will go ahead.
“We’re looking forward to the visit and we’re sure it will be a success,” May’s spokesman said on Tuesday.
“What John Bercow suggests to parliament is a matter for parliament,” he said.
The House of Lords speaker is expected to making a statement on the issue later on Tuesday.
– ‘Very disappointing’ –
However, Tory MP Crispin Blunt warned that Bercow would have to deal with “the consequences” of his comments, stressing that speakers “do not express their opinion.
“That’s the entire point, otherwise they can’t remain neutral and above the political fray,” he said.
US Republican Congressman Joe Wilson called the comments “very disappointing” during an interview with BBC’s Newsnight, saying it was “a slap at the Republican Party.”
May has come under intense pressure over the invitation, which she extended while visiting the White House just hours before he announced his travel ban.
The ban has since been temporarily suspended by a federal judge.
More than 1.8 million people have signed a public petition calling on ministers to cancel Trump’s visit, which MPs are due to debate later this month, although a recent poll showed that only 36 percent of Britons opposed the visit.
The date and details of the state visit are still being worked out and a spokeswoman for the speaker’s office said the government had not made any request for Trump to address parliament.
But a speech to both Houses of Commons and Lords has been a feature of many previous state visits, including one by Barack Obama in 2011.
The House of Lords speaker Norman Fowler is expected to make a statement on the issue later on Tuesday.
More than 160 of parliament’s 650 MPs have signed a parliamentary motion opposing an address by Trump, citing the travel ban and his comments on torture and women.
May on Monday told MPs that last week she had urged her fellow European leaders to “engage patiently and constructively” with the new US administration.
Trump’s criticism of the NATO military alliance and his prediction that the EU could fall apart following Britain’s vote to leave has caused alarm in European capitals.