Donald Trump UK ban debate: Donald Trump’s views are repugnant, but we can’t ban people for stupidity
MPs from all parties were vehement in their condemnation of Donald Trump during a debate on whether to ban the outspoken business mogul and Republican presidential hopeful from the country, after a petition calling for him to be denied entry to the UK received over 560,000 signatures.
The petition was launched amid widespread criticism after Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the US in December, and received tens of thousands of signatures in support within the first few hours. Trump's campaign put out a statement at the time, saying:
Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.
Labour backbencher Paul Flynn, a member of the Petitions Committee, opened the debate, defending the decision to debate the ban because the views of more than half a million Britons should not be ignored, and the public should have a say in what's debated in parliament.
However, he added, there is a danger MPs have given too much attention to Trump already.
Flynn suggested instead of banning Trump, he would invite him to London, and ask him to point out the "no-go" areas, in Brixton for example. He added:
We should greet the extreme things this man says with our own reasonableness, with our hospitality. We should greet him with courtesy. But we shouldn't build him up with our attacks… Then perhaps the shameful walls of exclusion will finally come tumbling down.
Most MPs seem to agree, and there was a fear that banning Trump will seem disrespectful to American citizens, or "anti-American".
Conservative Tom Tugendhat said it was "bad politics" to intervene in the running of another country: "We value the same rights of liberty." He added, although "Donald Trump has no valid points to make, I will not be the one to silence his voice."
As James Brokenshire, the Immigration Minister, pointed out when he summed up for the government: the Home Secretary must take into account not only the fundamental right to freedom of speech, but also the importance of having good relations with the US, "our most important bilateral partner." He said it remained within the UK's interests to engage with all US presidential candidates to help influence policy.
Conservative backbencher Paul Scully, another member of the Petitions Committee, said it was important for discussion to be heard on the matter, but the decision would ultimately rest with the Home Secretary, Theresa May.
He went on: "There is a fear of immigration, and I suspect Trump's words were probably born out of that fear, but that is not acceptable for an aspirant world leader," adding
There have been a number of cases of exclusion for incitement, or for hatred, but I've never heard of one for stupidity, and I'm not sure we should be starting now.
Parliament should focus on tackling the real problems around security, terrorism and immigration, he continued, rather than "worrying about one man's ego".
He later suggested:
We British are pretty good at roasting beef. Why don't we roast Trump instead?
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a Scottish National Party MP, and one of the members supporting the ban, said Trump had offended her, and her friends and family, and had made life harder for Muslims in the UK.
She pointed to the fact that several British MPs, the political editor of Sky News, the chief executive of Tate and Lyle and many British Olympic athletes would be prevented from entering the US because of their Muslim heritage. The Home Secretary had already banned 84 people from entering the country, Trump should be the 85th person, she added.
Jack Dromey, Labour's shadow Home Affairs minister said:
I wouldn’t allow him within 100,000 miles of our shore. [He’s] free to be a fool, but not free to be a dangerous fool in Britain.
Trump was branded a wazzock, an idiot and a buffoon for his views, but former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, and shadow Home Office minister Kier Starmer, summed up in opposition to the proposal, saying Trump's comments were more than buffoonery, they were "absolutely repugnant… offensive, shocking and disturbing."
But, he said, they did not meet the requirements to exclude someone from the country. Under the 2005 Home Office guidelines, for someone to be excluded, their presence must not be conducive to the public good either by fomenting terrorism, provoking other acts of terrorism, fomenting other serious criminal acts and fostering hatred that might lead to community violence. He added:
I want to send a message that we value our Muslim communities [but] I don't believe [Trump's comments] merit a ban at this point in time.
The MPs did not vote on whether to ban Trump, the decision remains in Theresa May's hands. The government's official line on the debate is:
The home secretary [Theresa May] has said that coming to the UK is a privilege and not a right and she will continue to use the powers available to prevent from entering the UK those who seek to harm our society and who do not share our basic values.
The debate has managed to unite David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn, who both agree that while Trump's remarks were, in Cameron's words, "divisive, stupid and wrong", it would be wrong to ban him from the country.
Trump also suggested there were areas of London which were "no-go zones" for non-Muslims, where the police were scared to be seen, to which London Mayor Boris Johnson responded:
The only reason I wouldn't go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.
Petitions submitted to the government's Petitions Committee on parliament's official website, but not websites like Change.org or 38 Degrees, must be considered for debate if they receive more than 100,000 signatures.
The debate was held in Westminster Hall, rather than the House of Commons. The hall is used for ‘general debate’ motions to consider motions in neutral terms.