May 28, 2019

U.K. speaker still opposes Trump addressing Parliament

John Bercow. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

John Bercow, speaker of the U.K. House of Commons, said today that while there had been no formal request for President Trump to address Parliament, "nothing has happened since" 2017 — when Bercow cited "racism and sexism" in opposing such an invitation — to change his mind.

Why it matters: Trump will visit the U.K. next week. Bercow noted that while previous presidents had been invited to address Parliament, there was no "unbreakable norm." He said former President Obama, for example, had been "comparably popular" in Europe and the U.K., and a historic figure as America's first black president. Asked by Axios if he would have rejected a formal request from Buckingham Palace to invite Trump, Bercow said to answer would be "engaging in the odd hypothetical."

But, but, but: Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Bercow conceded that there was a "powerful argument" that it was an error to invite Chinese President Xi Jinping to address Parliament in 2015. He said he had been "persuaded" that it would help an important relationship.

  • Bercow also said it was "probably not right" to allow the emir of Kuwait to address Parliament, in 2012.

The speaker also addressed Brexit, an issue that has fractured British politics like nothing else. He said that while the default position remained that the U.K. would leave the EU without an exit deal in October, "Parliament ... will have a lot to say on this matter" before that happens.

Between the lines: There's been speculation that if May is replaced by a hardline Brexiteer like Boris Johnson, as seems likely, the U.K. will be on course to crash out without a deal. Bercow said it was "quite wrong" to think such an outcome was inevitable.

As for his own future, Bercow said:

"Now is a time in which momentous events are taking place and there are great issues to be resolved and in those circumstances it doesn't seem to me to be sensible to vacate the chair. And if I had any intentions to announce on that matter... I would do so to Parliament first.

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