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MPs in bad-tempered debate on Trump visit

President Trump’s state visit to the UK will go ahead, the Government has emphatically declared despite opposition from MPs and protests all over the UK.

The Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan told MPs at the end of an acrimonious three-hour debate the visit “should happen and will happen”, despite protests.

While Sir Alan was speaking, a noisy demonstration – which one MP called a “Greek chorus of disapproval” – was taking place outside Parliament along with others in Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff and Newcastle.

The debate was at times heated and ill-tempered, with some female MPs repeating the President’s lewd comments about women and many Tory MPs angrily hitting back at criticism of the President.

But concluding the debate, Sir Alan said: “This is a special moment for the special relationship.

“The visit should happen, the visit will happen and when it does I trust the United Kingdom will extend a polite and generous welcome to President Donald Trump.”

MPs debate whether Donald Trump should be allowed to come to the UK as part of a state visit
Image Caption: MPs debate whether Donald Trump should be allowed to come to the UK as part of a state visit

:: As it happened – MPs debate Trump visit amid protests

Sir Alan said that while state visits – where the guest is hosted by the Queen and afforded the pomp and ceremony attached – are “rare and prestigious” occasions, they are also Britain’s “most important diplomatic tool”.

“They enable us to strengthen and influence those international relationships that are of the greatest strategic importance to this country, and even more widely, to other parts of the world as well,” he said.

Sir Alan said Britain’s special relationship with the US is a “central stabilising pillar” in an increasingly dangerous and unstable world.

And he said a state visit matters “because, put simply, diplomacy matters” and that the Government decided to use this tool early on in Mr Trump‘s presidency “to maximise the diplomatic significance of a state visit”.

An anti-Trump protester demonstrates outside Parliament
Image Caption: An anti-Trump protester demonstrates outside Parliament

“This engagement places our national interest at the heart of our Government’s decision-making,” he said. “And the special relationship is an essential part of that national interest.

“It’s a relationship which transcends political parties on both sides of the Atlantic and it is bigger than individual personalities – it is about the security and the prosperity of our two nations.”

MPs, sitting in a packed Westminster Hall committee room, were debating two opposing petitions, one signed by 1.85 million opposing a Trump visit and another by 312,000 welcoming him.

Opening the debate, the veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn compared the US President to a “petulant child” as he urged ministers to avoid repeating past mistakes when “very unsavoury characters” made state visits.

Some of the protesters in Parliament Square
Image Caption: Some of the protesters in Parliament Square

Labour MP David Lammy said a president who has shown himself to be misogynistic and has the support of white supremacists should not be treated to the pomp and ceremony of a full blown state visit.

“We didn’t do this for Kennedy, we didn’t do this for Truman, we didn’t do this for Reagan, but for this man, after seven days, we say please come and we will lay on everything because we are so desperate for your company.”

Scotland’s former First Minister, Alex Salmond, told MPs: “As an example of fawning subservience… the Prime Minister’s holding hands across the ocean visit would be difficult to match.

“To do it in the name of shared values was stomach churning. What exactly are the shared values that this House, this country, would hope to have with President Trump?”

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He said the US President is “not a stupid man“, adding it was a “recipe for total and utter disaster” for the UK to advertise its weak position to Mr Trump.

And he told MPs: “From my experience of negotiating with Donald Trump, never ever do it from a weak position because the result will be total disaster.”

But the Tory MP Nigel Evans, in a passionate defence of the Trump visit, compared his election to the Brexit vote, saying that both votes were driven by a feeling among many in the population of being “left behind”.

He said: “We have to ask ourselves why is it that people felt so left behind that they made the democratic decisions that they have which we think we can’t understand – how could you possibly vote for Brexit? How could you possibly vote for Donald Trump?

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“The fact is that the people have. These were the forgotten people. Just like we had the forgotten people in the United Kingdom, there are the forgotten people in the United States of America.”

Former Tory minister Sir Simon Burns, who has regularly campaigned for the Democrats in US elections, said the invitation should be kept as post-Brexit Britain would need to keep America close.

“What we have got to do is look at what is going to be most helpful for Britain, for its future policy and development.

“And I think it is a no brainer that working closer with the United States is far more important for this country, particularly as we begin negotiations and the exit from the EU in two, two and a half years’ time,” he said.

“We cannot afford to be isolated and to ignore our friends.”

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Fellow Tory Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, also backed the visit but said it should be delayed until 2020, the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers.

And towards the end of the debate, former Labour minister Liam Byrne said he feared the visit would not be a showcase for the shared values of the UK and US but a “showcase for the divisions between us”.

He added: “What will greet the president will make the protests outside look like a tea party.”

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