In Britain, a planned visit by US President Donald Trump has been overshadowed by a political fight over whether Trump should be denied certain honors because of his policies.
The controversy has focused on one issue in particular: whether President Trump will be allowed to address members of Parliament in Westminster Hall, an ancient building dating back more than a thousand years. Previous guest speakers in the hall include Nelson Mandela, China’s leader Xi Jinping, and Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
An offer to President Trump to address the Hall was vetoed this week by John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons. Although the speaker’s role is traditionally neutral in British politics, Bercow told parliamentarians that he had made his decision in protest of Trump’s policies and public statements.
"I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations," Bercow said. “After the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump I am even more strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall.”
Invitations to address Westminster Hall must be approved by Bercow along with two other key figures in British politics: the Lord Chamberlain and the speaker in the House of Lords. Bercow later apologized for his failure to consult with the speaker of the Lords over his decision, but did not withdraw it.
The announcement has caused concern across the British establishment. While many liberal and left-wing politicians applauded Bercow’s decision, it is believed to have been strongly opposed by Prime Minister Theresa May’s administration. Anonymous government sources told the Guardian that Bercow’s behavior was "hugely out of line."
The May government has staked much of its foreign policy on maintaining a close relationship with the Trump White House as a counterbalance while Britain withdraws from the European Union. May was widely criticized for being slow to condemn Trump’s executive order banning refugees and certain foreign nationals from traveling to the US.