LONDON — The last time British lawmakers found themselves debating Donald Trump in the hallowed halls of Parliament, the American business mogul was a presidential candidate.
On Monday, they were debating President Trump, the most powerful man in the world.
That didn’t hold them back.
For three hours, lawmakers debated whether Britain should rescind its offer of a state visit to the U.S. president.
The lawmakers don’t have the power to force the government to cancel the visit, and there was no binding vote. But the event still drew plenty of public attention. During the proceedings, thousands of anti-Trump protesters rallied outside of Parliament. At times, their chants could be heard within the debating chamber.
The debate, held in Parliament’s Westminster Hall, was opened by Paul Flynn, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party. Like many in attendance, Flynn argued that the offer of a full state visit to Trump — whom he called a “petulant child” — should be watered down to a mere official visit.
A state visit, he said, “would be terribly wrong because it would appear that British Parliament, the British nation, the British sovereign, is approving of the acts of Donald Trump.”
It’s highly unusual for British politicians to weigh in on U.S. politics in this way, although it has happened before. Last year, lawmakers debated whether Britain should ban Trump after he made controversial comments about Muslims on the campaign trail.
Monday’s debate was triggered by a petition — signed by more than 1.8 million people — that called on the British government to cancel the state visit because it would prove embarrassing for the queen. A rival petition backing the state visit, with 310,000 signatures, also was debated. Any petition on Parliament’s website that receives more than 100,000 signatures is considered for debate.
Although the action held no legal power, it is nonetheless a headache for British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has worked hard to nurture ties with Trump. She announced at her first joint news conference with the president last month that she was extending an offer of a full state visit later this year.
For some, the offer was extended far too quickly. President Barack Obama waited more than 700 days before he received an invite. President Trump waited seven days.
“After seven days, really, why? Because this great country is so desperate for a trade deal?” asked Labour’s David Lammy.
The Liberal Democrat lawmaker Alistair Carmichael agreed that May got it “catastrophically wrong” by offering the state visit so early. He asked what Britain might offer Trump the next time the United Kingdom wants a favorable response from the United States.
“The crown jewels?” he mused.
Queen Elizabeth II usually hosts one or two state visits a year, made on the recommendation of the British government. During the visits, the head of state often stays at Buckingham Palace, and a lavish state banquet is held in the leader’s honor.
During her long reign, the queen has hosted more than 100 such state visits, several of which have drawn controversy. When President George W. Bush visited in 2003, thousands took to the streets in protest.
At Monday’s debate, several members of the ruling Conservative Party argued in favor of the state visit.
“It’s a no-brainer,” said legislator Simon Burns, who argued that a close relationship with the United States was even more important now after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. “We can’t afford to be isolated and stand there alone.”
Crispin Blunt, head of parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said that “dangling” a state visit over Trump, whose mother was Scottish and an admirer of the queen, “was a very successful use of the kind of soft power that the U.K. has.” But he also said it would be more appropriate to hold the visit in 2020 to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to America.
The debate touched on various subjects, including Trump’s immigration policies and his lewd comments about women that he dismissed as “locker room talk.”
Naz Shah, a Labour Party politician, said that Trump’s stance on Muslims was divisive and dangerous and that by “bringing out the crockery, the china, the red carpet, what we are doing is endorsing all those views.”
“As a Muslim in this house, I am not an enemy to Western democracy. I am part of Western democracy,” she said.
“Can you really lay out the red carpet for someone who has talked about grabbing women by the p----?” asked Labour lawmaker Tulip Siddiq.
Responding on behalf of the government, Alan Duncan, the deputy foreign secretary, said that the state visit “should happen and will happen.”
“The United States is the world’s greatest power,” he said. “We believe it’s entirely right to use all the tools at our disposal to build common ground with President Trump.”
He also said that when Trump does visit, he expects Britain to extend a “polite and generous welcome.”