Speaker John Bercow defends his comments on Donald Trump

Media captionSpeaker John Bercow said addressing Parliament was “not an automatic right”

Commons Speaker John Bercow has defended voicing his opposition to Donald Trump addressing Parliament.

His comments, including accusing the US president of “racism and sexism”, had been made “honestly and honourably” and were within his remit, he told MPs.

Several Conservatives have criticised the Speaker, one saying his career could be in “jeopardy” and another that he had damaged the national interest.

Downing Street called his comments “a matter for Parliament”.

The US president has accepted an invitation from the Queen for a state visit to the UK, which can include an address to both Houses of Parliament, later this year.

However, responding to a point of order in the Commons on Monday, Mr Bercow said he was opposed to Mr Trump speaking to MPs and peers – as other international leaders have done. He said it was “not an automatic right”, but an “earned honour”.

Questioned about this by MPs on Tuesday, he replied: “The House has always understood that the chair has a role in these matters.”

He added: “I was honestly and honourably seeking to discharge my responsibilities to the House.”

Mr Bercow said it was time “to move on to other matters”.


Analysis

By Eleanor Garnier, BBC political correspondent

It was an unprecedented and extraordinary rebuke.

A diplomatic snub that in effect means President Trump will not be invited to address MPs in Parliament.

John Bercow’s comments were applauded by MPs on the opposition benches – but critics have said he’s abused his position and spoken out of turn.

Mr Bercow’s decision risks undermining the prime minister’s very public effort to create a new special relationship with the Trump administration.


But Conservative MP Sir Gerald Howarth said there had been a “rather subdued aspect” among his party’s MPs when Mr Bercow had spoken.

He added: “I do hope that you will help us to ensure that we can have full confidence in your impartiality, because that’s the way for the House to proceed.”

The “relationship between the United Kingdom and United States is an extremely important one”, Sir Gerald also said.

However, Labour MP Paul Flynn said the Commons owed Mr Bercow “a debt of gratitude for deciding that in this case such an invitation should not be supported by this House.”

Mr Bercow is one of three “key holders” to Westminster Hall – where Mr Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama spoke in 2011 – along with the Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord Fowler, and the Lord Great Chamberlain, a hereditary peer in charge of certain parts of the Palace of Westminster.

All three must agree in order for an address to take place there. Lord Fowler will address peers on the issue on Tuesday.

Some opposition MPs applauded his comments on Monday, but senior Conservatives have been highly critical since.

One unnamed Tory MP and former cabinet member told the BBC that Mr Bercow “must be close to standing down”, while another said his remarks had gone “way beyond what is acceptable”.

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries told the BBC: “When he loses support for what was a very partisan moment I think his position will become more and more in jeopardy…

“It’s about what the people want and I think if people make enough of a stink out there I think his position could be in jeopardy.”

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Image caption

Theresa May said the Queen had invited Donald Trump to the UK

Crispin Blunt, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said Mr Bercow was going to have to deal with “the consequences” of his comments.

He said there were “strongly held views on both sides of the argument”, but added: “Generally the Speaker, who’s meant to referee all of this, should keep himself above that. I think that’s to be regretted, but it is a symptom of the controversy around this visit.”

Former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale accused Mr Bercow of “playing to the gallery for as much publicity as possible” and suggested the Speaker could have had a “quiet word” with the prime minister instead of speaking out.

He told Sky News: “It was a performance, it was John Bercow playing to the gallery and I think it was damaging to the national interest. I think it is regrettable that he did it.”

Fellow Conservative Nadhim Zahawi, who has been critical of Mr Trump’s travel ban, said the Speaker prided himself on his neutrality and to become the story was “a bad place to be”.

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He said Mr Bercow had opened himself up to accusations of hypocrisy after allowing other controversial leaders, like the Chinese president, to speak, and urged him to explain his thinking to MPs.

Republican Congressman Joe Wilson criticised the Speaker’s comments, telling the BBC’s Newsnight programme his interjection was “very disappointing”.

“If ever in recent years there’s been a more pro-British president of the United States, it’s Donald Trump,” he said.

He said Mr Trump had already assured Mrs May over his commitment to Nato, expressed a desire to create UK-US trade relationships, and returned a bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office.

“I consider it too, sadly, a slap at the Republican Party. It was the leaders of our party that actually placed the bust of Winston Churchill in the US Capitol Building and we urge all persons to come visit our Capitol Building,” he added.


Other leaders’ speeches

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  • International leaders are sometimes invited to address both Houses of Parliament when they visit the UK
  • Recent examples include Colombian President Juan Manuel Santo last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015 and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014
  • Mr Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, made a speech in Westminster Hall in 2011

What is a state visit?


Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage said Mr Bercow had “abused his position” and that to have expressed his opinions in the way he did “devalues this great office”.

As speaker, Mr Bercow is the highest authority of the House of Commons and, despite having been elected as a Conservative MP, must remain politically impartial.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has called for the state visit to be postponed, welcomed the intervention, while Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said Mr Trump was “not welcome”.

Meanwhile, a petition to withdraw the invitation to the US president – and another one backing the visit – will be debated by MPs later this month.

No date for Mr Trump’s visit has been announced.

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