- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Britain’s colorful speaker of Parliament said Tuesday that President Trump once again won’t be welcome to speak in the hallowed legislative chamber during his state visit next month, telling an audience in Washington he hasn’t changed his low opinion of the U.S. president.

British House of Commons Speaker John Bercow — whose bellowing voice and strongly expressed rulings have brought him international prominence presiding over heated Brexit negotiations in Parliament — on Tuesday stood by his stance that Mr. Trump’s political views run counter to British values and did not deserve a hearing in Westminster.

Mr. Bercow’s visit comes at a time of particular turbulence in London, with the country divided over Brexit and a fierce leadership battle underway to succeed resigning Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May.

But despite the massive, spirited street protests that greeted Mr. Trump’s visit to Britain last summer, Mr. Bercow’s pointed comments may be out of step with the British people as new polling data show a clear plurality of Brits support the idea of the American president stopping by for a visit.

Mr. Bercow denied Mr. Trump the opportunity to speak before Parliament on his first working visit to London last year — despite having granted the same honor to former President Obama. Mr. Bercow argued that inviting Mr. Trump would run contrary to Parliament’s longstanding “opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary.”

Since then, nothing has happened to reverse his judgment, Mr. Bercow said.

“I have nothing to add to or subtract from what I said in February 2017,” he said Tuesday. “Nothing has happened since then to cause me to change my mind.”

Mr. Bercow said that the White House has not formally requested an opportunity for Mr. Trump to address Parliament when he visits London next week, though it’s clear he would deny such a request if it were made.

While Mr. Bercow’s opinion hasn’t changed, it seems the British people on balance support Mr. Trump’s trip. A YouGov poll released this week found that 46% of Brits believe Mr. Trump’s visit to London should go forward, compared to 40% who want it to be called off. Forty-one percent said they think it’s appropriate for Mr. Trump to meet with Queen Elizabeth II, compared to just 35% who supported such a meeting last year.

Crucial moment

Tensions with Mr. Trump aside, Mr. Bercow’s appearance Tuesday comes at a crucial moment for Britain as it struggles to find a political consensus on exiting the European Union later this year. The deepening divide over Brexit led Mrs. May to announce her resignation last week after repeated failed attempts to broker a compromise.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a longtime May rival and strong supporter of Brexit, leads a pack of contenders lining up to run for her job. She is set to officially resign just days after Mr. Trump leaves.

And over the weekend, traditional centrist parties in Britain took a beating in the weekend’s European Parliament elections while the nation’s Brexit Party — led by hard-liner Nigel Farage, an early leader in the push to leave the EU — captured the largest share of the vote. The Brexit Party won 29 seats, making it one of the most powerful forces inside the EU and surpassing the bloc of Mrs. May’s Conservatives.

Mrs. May said Tuesday the results underscore the need for Parliament to accept a Brexit compromise that avoids a headlong, chaotic departure with an incalculable impact on the election.

“Of course the European election results were deeply disappointing for the party,” she told reporters in Britain. “What it shows is the importance of actually delivering Brexit. I think the best way of doing that is with a deal but it will be for my successor and for Parliament to find a way forward to get a consensus and I hope that those election results will focus parliament on the need to deliver Brexit.”

As the nation barrels toward its Oct. 31 exit from the EU, Mr. Bercow suggested in remarks Tuesday in Washington to the Brookings Institution that the Brexit fight may just be getting started. A Conservative MP since 1997 and speaker for the past decade, Mr. Bercow said Parliament will be emboldened over the coming months as lawmakers try to put their own fingerprints on the process, potentially complicating the job of Mrs. May’s successor.

“As to where we go from here, my own view about it is [that] we have to wait to see who emerges as the next prime minister,” he said Tuesday. “But the appetite of the House to have its say has recently been whetted and that appetite is not exhausted. Indeed, some would say it’s voracious. The House will want to have its say and the idea the House won’t have its say is just for the birds. Parliament is a big player in this.”

As for his continued blackballing of Mr. Trump, a stance that has generated controversy back home, Mr. Bercow argued that there’s no “unbreakable norm” requiring an American president to make such an appearance.

Because this will be a state visit, Mr. Trump’s schedule, as outlined by British officials, includes a number of events with the royal family, including a state banquet at Buckingham Palace and a D-Day event at Portsmouth where the queen will be accompanied by Prince Charles.

Mrs. May and Mr. Trump will attend a breakfast with business leaders and share a dinner at the residence of the U.S. ambassador. The schedule so far does not include a visit to Parliament or a major public policy address by Mr. Trump.

Mr. Obama was given the chance to speak to lawmakers in the prestigious Westminster Hall in 2011, Mr. Bercow said, because of his popularity across Europe and the historic nature of his election.

“President Obama was invited to address both houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall ad that was very well received, his address was very well received,” Mr. Bercow said. “He was a comparatively popular president in Europe and indeed … in the U.K. And he was also, of course, the first black president of the United States.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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