By Guy Wilkinson and Liam Fell
Trump’s latest fiasco has yet again sparked debate over the potential to prevent his scheduled state visit. A state visit is a formal visit by a foreign head of state and is normally at the invitation of our head of state, the Queen.
Trump retweeted three of Jayden Fransen’s tweets, purportedly showing a group of Muslims pushing a boy off a roof, a Muslim desecrating a statue of the Virgin Mary, and a Muslim immigrant hitting a Dutch boy on crutches. Jayden Fransen, deputy leader of the far-right group, Britain First, faces charges of using threatening language whilst making a speech in Belfast.
The credibility of the videos has been called into question, with the Dutch embassy in the US stating that the perpetrator of the violent act against the boy on crutches, was in fact born and raised in the Netherlands.
A petition to prevent Trump’s visit in January 2017 attracted 1 million signatures, prompting a Parliamentary debate. The petition now sits at 1.78 million signatures. Supporters of Trump’s state visit have created a rival petition that has attracted 200,000 signatures in just a few days. It is hoped the following conversation will highlight some different perspectives on the debate.
Should Trump’s state visit go ahead?
Guy Wilkinson: Prime Minister Theresa May has, of course, condemned Trump’s actions, saying “I am very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do.” And yet, she still refuses to cancel the planned state visit.
The UK’s policy should reflect our disgust at Trump’s tweets
The middle ground is exactly the course the Prime Minister should be taking, to further the interest of the United Kingdom, whilst also protecting the values that it holds so dear. However, this condemnation does not go far enough, and instead, the UK’s policy should reflect our disgust at Trump’s tweets, by rejecting a full state visit. This is not prohibiting a visit outright, but instead denies the high profile subordination that Trump so desperately wants to exhibit.
Liam Fell: First of all it is important to consider the purpose of a state visit. A state visit is not an endorsement of the politics of the visiting head of state and is certainly not an endorsement of their character. I believe it is better to view a state visit in the same context as any other form of diplomatic relations.
The purpose of it is to maintain the special relationship we share with our closest ally
We host state visits and maintain diplomatic relations with a variety of foreign powers. Often these governments and societies do not reflect the values of our own. Yet diplomats and government ministers understand the necessity of maintaining these relationships. A Trump state visit should be no different. The purpose of it is to maintain the special relationship we share with our closest ally.
Wilkinson: You make the point that we often invite governments and heads of state, who do not reflect the values of our own country. That is true, since we have hosted King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Xi Jinping of China, to name two. However, never before has an American President, or any other prominent world leader for that matter, openly and intrusively promoted aspects of the British political landscape to which we so want to distance ourselves. One could also argue that Obama interfered in British politics, by declaring that Britain would be at the back of the queue for a trade deal with the US, should it decide to leave the EU. But this was a matter of serious, global economic importance and practical policy.
He is… endorsing an ideological stance that embraces racism in a general sense, and more specifically, Islamophobia
Trump is not advocating any practical policy by retweeting far right twitter pages, he is merely endorsing an ideological stance that embraces racism in a general sense, and more specifically, Islamophobia. He was even given the chance to apologise, by Theresa May’s condemnation, and yet he still chose to stand by Britain first, by saying “Don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!” This is not acceptable.
Fell: Trump has never hidden his uncompromising nature or his inability to admit fault. It is therefore not unsurprising that when rightfully challenged by Theresa May, he did not distance himself from his original comments. This is simply in his character. His behaviour on Twitter only confirms his inability to shoulder the responsibilities of a head of state, which in itself is not enough to preclude him from a state visit. A full state visit is understandably not something that should be given lightly. Not only are they expensive with, policing costs alone expected to be to the tune of ten million pounds. Their significance is diminished if held too often.
A full state visit might actually be the strongest tool in Theresa May’s arsenal
So it is reasonable to question the appropriateness to offer a full state visit to Trump, given the UK has only offered full state visits to the US twice in its history. If the aim of a state visit is to build relations with a foreign nation, in this case, a full state visit might actually be the strongest tool in Theresa May’s arsenal. Given Trump’s well-documented egotistical nature, perhaps the best way to ensure the continued support of the leader of the free world is to let him ride in a sufficiently golden carriage and eat dinner in a palace.
Wilkinson: Giving him a full state visit in a golden carriage and a nice dinner is merely adding fuel to the fire. Appeasing him won’t improve his behaviour, nor will it improve relations with the USA. The chances are Trump has already made up his mind as to what policies to pursue in regards to the UK, thus flattering him with lavish spending is pointless. To invite Donald Trump, a man who has instigated migrant bans, refused to call out clear terrorist actions, such as in Charlottesville, will cause the Queen great embarrassment.
The last thing the government wants or needs is mass protests on the streets, against a racist, misogynistic megalomaniac
The pro-Trump state visit camp seem to create this illusion that the Queen’s opinion on the matter is a mysterious notion, that cannot be understood. This is quite frankly wrong, and although we cannot know the Queen’s opinion for certain, it is quite clear that almost everyone within the Houses of Parliament agree that Trump does not subscribe to the British values under which we, as a country pride ourselves. On a practical aspect, inviting Trump for a full state visit would make Theresa May’s position appear even more untenable. The UK government already looks hopelessly weak on the international stage, with Boris Johnson’s blunder in regards to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Priti Patel visiting places she shouldn’t, and of course most importantly the maelstrom, that is the Brexit negotiations. The last thing the government wants or needs is mass protests on the streets, against a racist, misogynistic megalomaniac.
Fell: Confirming our ongoing relationship with our closest ally will not make us look weak. In fact, I believe it will have the opposite effect. Not only does it send a clear message to the rest of the world that Britain stands with its allies regardless of the political pressure at home or abroad, it also shows would-be foreign adversaries that in spite of political change in America, Britain still intends to maintain the status-quo.
A clear message to the rest of the world that Britain stands with its allies regardless of the political pressure at home or abroad
To your point on the Queen, as part of her role over the last 65 years, she has no doubt had to host many people she did not personally like. And certainly, some that have not adhered to the values of our country. Putting aside the fact that Trump would be visiting as a representative of his nation (which broadly does share the same values as our own) the Queen has always put personal matters aside and carried out the role she is required to do. A Trump state visit would be no exception.
Regardless of the outcome of this diplomatic conundrum, we can both agree it is vitally important to debate the implications of state visits by controversial leaders, particularly ones that interfere with our political landscape and values.
Photograph: The White House via Flickr