What to do with a problem like Trump? That is the question on everyone’s mind after our Prime Minister’s visit to Washington. For Theresa May, the fact she was the first foreign leader to meet in person with the 45th American President was something of a coup. Standing side-by-side in the Oval Office, with the bust of Winston Churchill beside them, if her aim was to reaffirm the special relationship then she certainly achieved it. The journey was even more successful, getting the President on the record with his ‘100 percent’ support for NATO. Soon after the visit however, the so-called ‘Muslim Ban’ was signed in through executive order. This comes after the Prime Minister invited the president for a State Visit. A State Visit, it is one of the highest honours that can be bestowed upon a foreign leader. It includes a stay with our Head of State, the Queen, and involves all of the expected pageantry to demonstrate British resolve in the special relationship. What is now questionable, however, is whether this honour can be bestowed on a man who is trying to ban Muslims from his own country. I want to begin by stating for the record, I am in no way a supporter of Trump and his policies. I think his rhetoric and actions have been abhorrent, and as he has demonstrated so far he is not yet fit to hold the Presidency of the United States.
Despite this, some form of State Visit should still go ahead. Before an angry mob assembles outside my door, let me explain why this should be the case. First and foremost, we have to acknowledge that the purpose of a State Visit goes beyond any one person; it is rather about the relationship between our two countries. International diplomacy supersedes any domestic or personal issues. Certainly there were areas that Barack Obama and David Cameron disagreed on, but a disagreement in policy is not a reason for the special relationship to be damaged. Our two countries are far too interconnected in trade, security and defence policy (through NATO) to let this be the case.
We also must consider Brexit. If we are leaving the EU it is an unavoidable fact that we need trading partners. Currently, about 17% of our exports go to the US. A free-trade agreement with America potentially opens up trade with the wider NAFTA bloc, and even presents opportunities in places such as Latin America and MERCOSUR, which is enormous. Free trade, if properly managed, should result in job creation. Why should you care? Well if jobs are potentially cut post-Brexit, we need a plan to create new ones. If a State Visit seals the deal, it’s a small price to pay for good economic opportunities. We must also recognise that Trump is democratically legitimate under the system with which the US uses to choose its Presidents, along with all his policies, Trump was elected. If he proves unpopular, or acts illegally there is the opportunity to remove him. Despite popular belief, he is not a Dictator. If we continually compare him to Hitler, like Labour MP Dennis Skinner did the other day, we cheapen the comparison. Furthermore, the checks and balances of the American legislature, judiciary and executive are still in place. For example in New York City a judge was able to block the legislation under State Law. I fully expect soon this will be escalated to the Supreme Court, in which case it most likely will be blocked. We have to respect the role of law, even if a policy is morally dubious, or plain wrong.
We need to embrace Trump and welcome him to a tolerant Britain; to show him what a 21st century democracy really looks like
The internet petition going around suggests a halfway house could be met; that Trump meets just the Prime Minister, and not the Queen as the visit could embarrass her. However, as Trump is a fellow head of State, this would ignore diplomatic protocol. Despite London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s declaration that the visit should not go ahead, I find myself agreeing more with another aspect of what he said; that we should use it as an opportunity to ‘educate’ Trump.
As US global leadership falters, it is an opportunity for the our country to step up and take a proactive role in fighting Islamophobia. The success of Le Pen’s National Front in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands suggests that Trumpian policy is finding its way over here. It is vital we take this problem head on now before we allow European populists to pursue racially driven immigration policies. If, like Canada, we made the symbolic gesture of opening our borders up to more immigrants, and properly screened and integrated them, this could make a sizeable difference.
It is the easiest thing in the world to ban Trump or call off a state visit. I also disagree with the solidarity marches. Solidarity is admirable yes, but will it change the situation in America? No. Instead of marching against Trump, we need to be marching for a fair and balanced immigration system in the UK. Brexit poses unanswered and worrying questions about immigration. Will EU workers be allowed to remain? Will refugees be able to make their home in the UK? We have a rich tradition of taking in immigrants so let’s not falter now when the going gets tough. Instead of rejecting him, which will only fuel another Twitter tirade. We need to instead embrace Trump and welcome him to a tolerant Britain; to show him what a 21st century democracy really looks like. If Brexit is to mean a ‘global Britain’, we must revel in our embracing of diversity and of different cultures. If we scrap the State Visit, we are just stopping a person we don’t like from visiting us which is exactly what Trump is doing. And if we do this, Trump wins.