7 February 2017
John Bercow is wrong. The Speaker must be impartial, even about Trump

The position of Speaker of the House of Commons is perhaps the most prestigious role in the Palace of Westminster, and by extension, in legislatures throughout the world. Along with our monarch, the Speaker’s ability to express their views to the government privately, yet show total impartiality publicly, is a cornerstone of British democracy. Upon appointment to the role of Speaker, the member of parliament is required to withdraw any party affiliation in order to guarantee absolute neutrality when presiding over debate. But yesterday, instead of moderating the debate, the Speaker breached that neutrality and made himself the story.

It was unwise of him to take a position that was so blatantly contrary to that of our elected government, that of many members of the House he is supposed to represent, and that of the legitimately elected president of our closest ally – the US.

I was among the first of my colleagues to speak out publicly against the president’s executive order, and even led an emergency debate with Ed Miliband that condemned the order as divisive, discriminatory and counterproductive. I could not have been clearer that I am totally and unequivocally opposed to the president’s current immigration policy. I have also spoken out against his comments on women, Mexicans and disabled people. But I am not opposed to inviting him here, to the Palace of Westminster, as part of his state visit.

I would like the president to come here at the earliest opportunity, in particular so that he can be spoken to eyeball-to-eyeball about the executive order. If we are to make the case to him that it is morally wrong to ban people based on their faith or country of origin, and that his order jeopardises global security, we cannot compromise our ability to do this by banning him from coming to the most famous place of debate and scrutiny in the world.

For the Speaker to talk in the language of bans only opens him up to accusations of partiality and hypocrisy, particularly when he has extended invitations to President Xi of China and the emir of Kuwait – both of whom have values clearly at odds with those we espouse in the UK.

Politicians from all parties are of course entitled to oppose the president coming to parliament, but it is not the Speaker’s job to jump on the bandwagon – particularly on the occasion of the Queen’s sapphire jubilee – to undermine the government’s efforts to bolster the UK’s special relationship with the US. It is for this reason that I would urge him to reconsider his position.

| First published in The Guardian