On Friday 13th July, the President of the United States will be visiting the United Kingdom for what is described as a working visit. Details are still sketchy at this stage, but already certain people are lining up to make their displeasure clear, among them the Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. We can expect an awful lot more of this sort of grandstanding and virtue signalling as the date of the visit approaches.
It is beyond any dispute that Donald Trump is a divisive figure, hated by many but loved by many as well. That is, it has to be said, his brand of politics. However, if some of us do not like the Donald, that does not mean to say that we should make a huge song and dance about it, or, worse, orchestrate protests against his visit, when such protests may well not harm him, but rather damage the United Kingdom.
It does not look good to invite someone into our country, and then protest when they arrive. If they come as the invited guest of our government, and the representative of their country, protest looks puerile and potentially insulting to the country they represent. Moreover, the fact that someone comes on a visit does not mean that we automatically agree with their country’s political culture. This applies as much to the President of the United States as it does to the King of Saudi Arabia, the President of China or (for some people) the Pope.
If one wishes to protest about these state or working visits – and I am never happy to see the Chinese President here, or the King of Saudi Arabia, for they certainly deserve to be international pariahs – then the protest should be aimed at our government that invited them in the first place. The British government would never ever (one hopes) invite Mr Putin here, but there are plenty of others who deserve to be on the ‘not to be invited’ list.
The Donald, I hasten to add, should not be on any such list. In fact, quite the opposite. He should be invited, and this visit is overdue, and I am sorry that it is not a full state visit, which, however, may come in time. America is our friend and ally, and we are bound together by close bonds of culture, language and history, and a presidential visit strengthens those bonds. At this juncture in British fortunes, our alliance with America has never been more important. And let us not forget that by inviting the American President here, we are paying a compliment to the whole of America, not just to him personally.
As for the protestors, they should enjoy their privilege of free speech, and the opportunity to remind the world that Donald Trump is not universally popular, and that America has its critics. But they will not be speaking for all of us. Mr Bercow and Mr Kahn in particular need to think carefully: London welcomes thousands of American visitors every year. We want them to feel welcome, surely? Will one more American visitor, albeit of a special kind, really be so very objectionable?