John Bercow has thrown Donald Trump’s state visit into further chaos after announcing that he will not be invited to address MPs and peers in Westminster Hall, or in the Royal Gallery.
As the Commons Speaker must extend their invitation for either event to take place, the President will have to find another venue. Bercow is being accused of overreaching the bounds of his office, and behaving in a partisan manner.
Are his critics right? The argument that Bercow overreached doesn’t stand up; the invitation to address Westminster Hall is his to give, not Theresa May’s. It is one of the responsibilities that Bercow was elected to fulfill – and don’t forget, he has now been elected twice to the office of Speaker.
It’s true that any number of shady individuals have been given state visits over the years. But only Charles De Gaulle, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Pope have been invited to address Westminster Hall. Trump inspires many feelings but the one thing we can surely all agree on is that he is not the liberator of his people, our closest ally in the fight against Nazi Germany, the first black President or the leader of a major religion.
That Trump will not be granted the opportunity to address the Royal Gallery is harder to argue given the fairly grim guest list that room has played host to over the years. But again, it’s Bercow’s right as Speaker to turn him down.
I’ve more sympathy with Patrick Kidd’s point in the Times that the invitation to address parliamentarians was never likely to go ahead, not least because of the real risk of empty chairs in the audience. “All we’ve had is MPs saying that something that probably wouldn’t have happened shouldn’t happen,” Patrick groans, “but that’s politics for you.”
In particular, it’s how politics works under this government. A prudent course of action would have been to quietly confirm that no address to MPs would take place. Instead, that decision’s been taken out of the prime minister’s hands – in a way that will cause embarrassment to Trump.
But it speaks to that neglected truth about Theresa May: that, far from being cautious, she prefers to drive into the rocks rather than swerve away from danger. Don’t forget that factor, or its potential to end in disaster, as the Brexit talks get underway.