Our British exchange student examines the British reactions to American President Donald Trump's first few weeks in office. Between e-petitions, protests, and a variety of politicians' statements in the UK, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between the two allies unfolds as President Trump's term continues.
As the petition has 1.8 million signatures, it has been decided that the subject will be debated in Parliament on February 20th. This will allow various parties to voice their opinions on Trump and his policies and then they will decide whether to allow Trump to make an official state visit to the UK. If there is an official visit, then he would address Parliament, have meetings with the Cabinet and possibly meet with people in the Royal family. If Trump is not permitted, then he would not speak in Parliament and it is possible that many other British officials would not meet with him. In addition to the petition, many people have turned to protesting in cities across the UK. The demonstrations have been similar to the US protests surrounding the Muslim ban but the British protests also highlight how Trump opposes British values. Around 10,000 people have protested in front of 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s home, with similar protests happening in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester and Oxford. The Guardian newspaper interviewed many protesters such as Elizabeth (38) who said, “I’m mortified that Theresa May is so keen to cosy up to Trump” and Stephanie (24) who explained, “Maybe [Prime Minister] May believes beggars can’t be choosers, but we should absolutely not stand with Trump.” This demonstrates some of the distaste that many British people have towards Trump’s policies but mainly shows their contempt for Theresa May’s willingness to work with Trump.
The Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May was the first head of state to visit Trump last week. Their relationship may be very important to the UK after the Brexit vote because the EU is a 500 million single-person market that they are pulling themselves out of, so a trade deal with the US may be very useful and that is Theresa May’s priority. During the press conference at the White House, May referred to the relationship between Prime Minister Thatcher and President Reagan, who both had conservative policies and were able to transform their parties. However, for many, this alliance is disturbing because Trump is known to be a controversial figure and May was not elected, she came into power in the UK after Cameron resigned. When asked to comment about the protest surrounding Trump’s Muslim ban, May argued that the “UK takes a different approach” with immigration, suggesting she is not in agreement. However, she said “the invitation still stands for Trump” because the UK and US have a “special relationship.”
Even though May wants to work with Trump, other politicians in the UK from various parties have voiced opposition towards Trump and his policies towards Muslims. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition party, The Labour Party, tweeted: “.@realDonaldTrump should not be welcomed to Britain while he abuses our shared values with shameful #MuslimBan & attacks on refugees & women.”
Even if people do not agree with Corbyn’s politics, he has a point that Trump is attacking Britain’s values of multiculturalism. Labour party MPs are not the only ones who have condemned Trump’s Muslim ban. Boris Johnson, Conservative Secretary of State for Foreign affairs, has argued that the ban is “divisive, discriminatory and wrong” but Johnson also argued that it is possible people are demonizing Trump and he does not aim to ban all Muslims coming into the US. Amber Rudd, another Conservative MP who is the Home secretary has called the ban “divisive” and argued that Islamic State might see it as a “propaganda” opportunity. Recently, even the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow spoke out against Trump. He made a convincing argument explaining that speaking in Parliament is not an “automated right” but an “earned honour.” Bercow accused the President of “racism and sexism” and that he has spent “the last 30 years campaigning against discrimination.” Bercow stated that if Trump were to make an official state visit to the UK, he would not be permitted to speak in Parliament.
The disagreements in Parliament suggest that MPs cannot agree whether to support Trump because the UK needs a strong relationship with the United States. It does force them to ask themselves, should they condemn Trump because he disagrees with British values of multiculturalism? They must decide at what point do they risk their diplomatic relationship with a long-established ally.