Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
7 February 2017

No, John Bercow was well within his rights to ban Donald Trump from the Commons

It's Theresa May who has questions to answer. 

By Stephen Bush

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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

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.”

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

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.