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Monday, March 27, 2017

Robbie Travers : UK: Free Speech for Dictators Only


  • How come, then, that John Bercow did not think it advisable to oppose the Emir of Kuwait's visit due to its "sexism" and "immigration ban"? No, Bercow granted the Emir a speech in the Queen's Robing Room.
  • It is evidently acceptable to be a representative of some of the world's most repressive dictatorships, with policies far worse than President Trump's, and yet visit Parliament, but a democratically-elected leader in the free world and a key ally, who may hold some views with which Bercow disagrees, makes him unacceptable.
  • What is it that the people trying to keep Trump from speaking are afraid others might hear?
When Theresa May announced, to the gathered press at the White House, an invitation for Donald Trump to make an official state visit to the United Kingdom, there were some in Britain who apparently oppose his views -- and, in a democratic and free society, express their opposition. There also were, however, concerns that these critics may have been acting hypocritically, as well as without considering due process.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May meets with US President Donald Trump at the White House, January 27, 2017. (Image source: UK Prime Minister's Office)

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow declared that he would not invite Trump to make a speech before Parliament due to the president's alleged "sexism" and "racism," and the British Parliament's opposition to those stances, as well as, further, due to Trump's temporary restrictions on immigration until better procedures for vetting applicants can be put in place .

Bercow, however, never adhered to due process: he should first have consulted the Speaker of the House of Lords or the Lord Chamberlain.
If Bercow thought that a ban from addressing Parliament would stop Trump from addressing the British people, he seems to have been wrong. Press reports suggest that Trump is planning massive stadium events. Perhaps that is the repeated failure of Trump's opposition: to see his appeal to the masses.

Furthermore, where was Bercow when Emir of Kuwait visited? Kuwait has a poor record on women's rights, and refuses entry to those with Israeli passports. Kuwait Airways and even dropped its flights between New York and London not to "break the law" by possibly carrying Israeli passengers.

How come, then, that Bercow did not think it advisable to oppose the Emir of Kuwait's visit due to its "sexism" and "immigration ban"? No, Bercow granted the Emir a speech in the Queen's Robing Room.

Bercow also granted a speech in Westminster Hall to the President of Indonesia -- a country that canes women for "standing too close to their boyfriends"; that has applied sharia law and that has put the homosexual community under "unprecedented attack".

In addition to these seeming slip-ups, Bercow also received a representative of the North Korean regime for afternoon tea in Parliament, and received representatives from the Communist single-party state of Vietnam.

So, it is evidently acceptable to be a representative of some of the world's most repressive dictatorships, with policies far worse than Trump's, and yet visit Parliament, but a democratically elected leader in the free world and a key ally, who may hold some views with which Bercow disagrees, makes him unacceptable.
Some MPs have rightly raised concerns that the Speaker is "using the Speaker's chair to pontificate on international affairs." The Speaker in Britain's Parliament is supposed to be impartial; some MPs have alleged that Bercow has "broken his employment contract with members of parliament," in which he is bound to remain impartial.

Others open to allegations of hypocrisy include Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, who demanded that Donald Trump not to be allowed a state visit or even to enter the UK for his incorrectly-named "Muslim ban" -- actually, only a temporary ban on people from seven countries, designated by former President Barack Obama, and over which Congress gave the president the power to restrict people who might be security risks.

On the same day in which Sadiq Khan made these comments, he then hosted a party to which he invited the ambassadors of Bangladesh, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen – all of which ban Israelis, and some of which even ban peopled holding passports stamped by Israel. Where was the outrage then, the mass protests, the marches against Khan for welcoming them?

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, also made it clear that he would not welcome Trump addressing Parliament and that he opposed a state visit. How ironic from someone who has welcomed former members of the IRA to Parliament, shortly after the IRA bombed the Conservative Party conference. He also welcomed Hezbollah and Hamas, and called them his "friends". Hamas is a genocidal organisation that remains dedicated to killing Jews and destroying Israel, and Hezbollah is dedicated to the obliteration of Israel.
It seems that there is a double standard here: Trump may have previously made tasteless remarks, but are his policies really worse than those of the Iran or North Korea?
As the British author George Orwell is alleged to have said, "Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."
What is it that the people trying to keep Trump from speaking are afraid others might hear?
Robbie Travers, a political commentator and consultant, is Executive Director of Agora, former media manager at the Human Security Centre, and a law student at the University of Edinburgh.
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