LONDON — A day after his extraordinary intervention, the speaker of the House of Commons has come under fire for going too far in insisting that President Trump should not be permitted to address British Parliament during his upcoming state visit.
Citing “racism” and “sexism,” Speaker John Bercow told lawmakers Monday that he was “strongly opposed” to the president addressing both houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall.
Addressing lawmakers in the Westminster Hall is considered a special honor in the United Kingdom, one that has been bestowed upon the likes of Nelson Mandela, Pope Benedict XVI and, in 2011, President Barack Obama.
But Bercow indicated that Trump’s name would not be added to the list. He is one of three officials who would have to agree on whether a head of state could speak in Parliament.
“I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism, and our support for equality before the law, and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons,” he said, as opposition lawmakers cheered and applauded.
Such interventions are highly unusual from the speaker, whose role requires him to remain politically impartial. Some Conservative lawmakers say that he has gone too far with his remarks.
Crispin Blunt, a Conservative lawmaker, told the BBC: “The speaker is meant to referee all this, and is meant to keep himself above all this.”
Sajid Javid, Britain’s communities secretary, said Bercow didn’t speak on behalf of the government.
“Anyone who knows the speaker knows that he speaks his mind. But he doesn’t speak for the government,” Javid told the BBC. Referring to Trump, he said “it’s manifestly in our national interest that we reach out to him, we work with him, and that he visits us in the U.K.”
Commentators were divided on whether Bercow overstepped the mark.
“Bercow has grossly exceeded his authority, seemingly believing himself entitled to wade deep into British foreign policy by dint of his office and his bottomless self-importance,” said the Daily Telegraph in an editorial.
The Guardian newspaper disagreed. In its editorial, the paper said: “These are not party political points. They are a defence of the everyday decencies that underlie democracy.”
Either way, it's a headache for British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has worked hard to build close ties with the new U.S. administration as Britain begins contemplating its future outside the European Union. She announced during her visit to the White House last month that Trump had accepted an invitation on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II for a full state visit later this year.
But May has come under pressure to revoke the offer after the worldwide backlash triggered by Trump's controversial executive order temporarily barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States. In Britain, more than 1.8 million people signed a petition urging the British government to rescind the offer of the state visit to avoid any “embarrassment” to the queen.
Bercow said he was “even more strongly opposed” to Trump addressing Parliament following the travel ban.
“Before the imposition of the migrant ban, I would myself have been strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall. 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,” he said.
Addressing Parliament, Bercow said, was “not an automatic right; it is an earned honor.”