Front pages of British newspapers on Dec. 9, which were published after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that the Metropolitan Police are scared to patrol certain Muslim areas of London. (Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

British lawmakers have scheduled a debate for later this month on whether to ban Donald Trump from entering their country.

The decision comes after more than 560,000 people signed a petition calling for such a ban — well over the 100,000 legally required to prompt a parliamentary debate. A separate petition opposed to banning Trump generated nearly 40,000 signatures.

The debate will be held Jan. 18 and can be watched online.

House of Commons Petitions Committee Chairwoman Helen Jones said that the debate “will allow a range of views to be expressed,” according to the Associated Press. Any conclusion reached by the lawmakers will not be binding, the wire service reported.

 

The petition to ban Trump was launched after the American billionaire and leading Republican presidential candidate issued a series of controversial comments about Muslims. Trump's comments — particularly his suggestion that some areas of London are so full of radical Muslims that police are too scared to go there — have earned rebuke from a number of prominent Britons.

[London police offer Donald Trump a reality check]

In an unusually disdainful statement, London's Metropolitan Police said, "Mr. Trump could not be more wrong."

London Mayor Boris Johnson, a member of the right-wing Conservative Party who is tipped by some to be the next British leader, also responded: "The only reason I wouldn’t go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump."

British Prime Minister David Cameron described Trump's comments as "divisive, stupid and wrong."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said in the British parliament Dec. 16 that remarks by U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump about barring Muslims from entering the United States were "stupid," but rejected a call from opposition lawmakers to ban Trump from entering Britain. (Reuters)

But the petition to ban Trump from entering Britain could go beyond words. The British Home Office really does reserve the right to refuse entry to foreigners coming to the country to speak under the unacceptable behaviors or extremism exclusion policy.

Anti-Muslim American speakers such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer have been blocked from entering the country by these rules before, as have extremist Islamic preachers and others whose presence the home secretary has decided would "not be conducive to the public good.”

Some prominent politicians, including Jack Dromey, home affairs spokesman of the opposition Labour Party, and Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, have backed the proposed Trump ban.

An executive from Trump's business conglomerate said in a statement to Fox News on Tuesday that the upcoming parliamentary debate was troubling.

“Westminster would create a dangerous precedent and send a terrible message to the world that the United Kingdom opposes free speech,” George Sorial, executive vice president and counsel for the Trump Organization, said in the statement.

To an American reader, banning someone from entering the country because of words they've uttered may seem extreme, but Britain and much of Europe have a very different attitude toward free speech. There has been some debate in the country as to whether to ban the Islamic State's signature flag, for example. In theory, at least, anti-Muslim sentiment is dealt with just as seriously.

[Scotland cuts ties with Donald Trump. He says it should be ‘thanking me’ instead.]

Even so, Trump, who has considerable business interests in Britain and personal ties to Scotland in particular, may be in luck.

Helen Fenwick, a professor at Durham Law School, notes that some supporters of the Trump ban say that the American businessman should be banned from the country because he has incited hatred on the grounds of religion, something made illegal by Britain's hate speech legislation. However, Fenwick doubts that Trump's comments would fall within that definition – his comments were insulting rather than threatening, she notes.

Fenwick adds that if the current home secretary, Theresa May, took a broader definition of "hate speech," Trump could possibly be banned; but that would be unlikely.

The British government has indicated that it would not refuse Trump entry, despite the apparent popularity of the sentiment. George Osborne, a high-ranking Conservative cabinet member, told the Daily Telegraph in December that it wouldn't be right for Britain to ban candidates before the U.S. election, adding that although Trump's comments were "profoundly wrong," it would be better to engage him in debate.

That appears to be the approach of the Muslim Council of Britain, which released a statement to say that if Trump does visit Britain in the near future, it would be happy to organize a multi-faith delegation to accompany him as he tours areas of London with large Muslim populations.

The council said it would even pay for his lunch.

This post has been updated.

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