Queen in a tough spot amid calls to cancel Trump’s state visit to UK over anti-Muslim tweets
Growing calls to cancel President Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain have put Queen Elizabeth – who would host the US president – in a difficult position.
In Britain’s constitutional monarchy, the queen invites foreign leaders to state visits – regarded as a great honour – on the advice of Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
In this case, it was Prime Minister Theresa May who extended the invitation to Trump on the queen’s behalf just days after Trump assumed office. While no date has yet been set for the visit, both governments say the state visit is still on.
It would be extremely awkward for the queen to rescind the invitation, and there is no indication the Foreign Office wishes her to do so.
At the heart of the current furore is Trump’s retweeting on Tuesday of inflammatory anti-Muslim videos that were originally posted by convicted hate criminal Jayda Fransen, who is the deputy leader of a British far-right group.
Asked if he was aware of the risk of elevating fringe rightwing groups, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters: “Look, I think what he’s done is elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat, and that’s extreme violence and extreme terrorism, something that we know to be very real, and something the president feels strongly about, talking about, and bringing up and making sure is an issue every single day, that we’re looking at the best ways to protect Americans.”
The spokeswoman was challenged over whether Trump knows who Fransen is. “No, I don’t believe so,” she admitted. “But again, I think he knew what the issues are, and that is that we have a real threat of extreme violence terrorism and violence, not just in this country but across the globe, particularly in Europe and that was the point he was making, and I don’t really have much to add beyond that.”
The descriptions of the posts by Fransen read: “VIDEO: Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” and “VIDEO: Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” and “VIDEO: Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!”
.@Theresa_May, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2017
Politicians ranging from Prime Minister Theresa May to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to Nigel Farage, the former head of UKIP and a Trump cheerleader, have condemned the retweets.
The UK ambassador in Washington, Kim Darroch, complained to the White House, and May’s spokesman said the president was wrong to retweet the group’s content.
Trump responded with a tweet urging May to focus on “the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom” instead of on him.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan was one of many politicians urging the government to scrap the state visit by Trump.
Khan, the British capital’s first Muslim mayor, said the American president had promoted “a vile, extremist group” and an official visit by him “would not be welcomed.”
In the House of Commons on Thursday, lawmakers criticised Trump in unusually blunt language. Labour’s Naz Shah accused him of promoting “the hate-filled ideology of fascism.” Conservative Tim Loughton said Twitter should take down Trump’s account for peddling “hate crime.”
But instead of an outright cancellation of Trump’s state visit, a convenient delay is more likely – as suggested in the UK Parliament.
Labour Party lawmaker Kevin Brennan said the 91-year-old queen has a busy year coming up with the anticipated birth of a new great-grandchild and the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May.
“Don’t those facts alone justify the government announcing a postponement of the state visit by the president of the United States for at least, say, three years?” he asked.
In the meantime, Trump could come to Britain for high level meetings on a trip that is not treated as a state visit, which is an event that follows well-scripted protocol.
It begins with the queen and other senior royals greeting the visitors for a ceremonial welcome, typically on Horse Guards Parade near Buckingham Palace.
In Trump’s case, he and his wife Melania would typically inspect an honour guard before being taken to the palace in a carriage procession escorted by soldiers on horseback. Gun salutes would be fired by The King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery at Green Park and the Tower of London.
The highlight of a state visit is usually the banquet held the very first night in the Buckingham Palace Ballroom. The queen usually invites about 150 guests including business leaders, diplomats and cultural figures.
She begins with a toast to the visiting head of state, who replies with a toast to the queen before the formal meal is served. The menu often includes some of the queen’s finest wines.
Former President Barack Obama made a state visit in 2011 with his wife Michelle. His other visits to Britain were not classified that way.
Additional reporting by The Guardian