Donald Trump has been invited to visit the United Kingdom for a State visit. This means horse-drawn carriages through Whitehall, troops of Household Cavalry on parade, and a glittering state banquet with the reality TV President sitting at the head of the table next to the Queen.
Downing Street confirmed this morning that the visit would go ahead despite the extraordinary Presidential decree banning nationals of seven countries visiting, or returning to, the USA.
There is a petition on the UK Parliament website urging the Government not to invite him to make a State visit on the grounds that “it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.”
I signed the petition yesterday, but on reflection I think I was wrong to do so.
The invitation should never have been issued to Mr Trump, at least certainly not so early in his term of office. Although four recent American Presidents (Reagan, George W Bush, Clinton and Obama) made State visits, the tradition is a relatively new one. There were none for Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, or George Bush Senior. Moreover, of those who did come, none did so within less than a year of taking office, as Trump now plans to do.
Reagan’s visit was in 1982, two years after his election.
Clinton: 1995, after three years.
George W. Bush: 2003, after three years.
Obama: 2011, after three years.
Why the haste to confer the honour upon Mr Trump? It has nothing to do with the qualities of the President and everything to do with the evident desperation of the British Government to announce a trade deal with the USA as soon as it possibly can.
The Government would do well to have learned at least one lesson from Mr Trump’s book The Art of the Deal:
“The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead.”
It would have been far better to treat Trump in the same way as his immediate predecessors Obama or George W. Bush, and to make him wait at least three years, with the possibility, if he proved as lamentable a president as he is turning out to be, not to invite him at all. Instead Mrs May has fawned over him like a whipped Labrador – it would be tempting and only a little unfair to use Mr Trump’s phrase “come onto him like a bitch” – conveying the impression that she will do almost anything to please him, damaging both her bargaining position and her dignity in the process.
The online petition predates the President’s latest decree. The reason given on the website for not inviting him in the first place is this:
“Donald Trump’s well documented misogyny and vulgarity disqualifies him from being received by Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales. Therefore during the term of his presidency Donald Trump should not be invited to the United Kingdom for an official State Visit.”
Yesterday morning it had about 30,000 signatures. At the time of writing, such is the disgust over the decree that it is heading towards and no doubt well above 1,000,000. But it’s a bit late “not to invite” Mr Trump. The invitation has gone out and no doubt now sits on his mantelpiece above the Churchill bust, where it will shortly be joined by an invitation from Mr Putin.
Despite the wording of the petition, most of the signatories have not signed because of a sudden concern about Mr Trump’s “misogyny and vulgarity.” His pussy-grabbing demonstrates his misogyny, and in every conceivable respect he would qualify for the put-down a courtier once snootily applied to Fergie: “vulgar, vulgar, vulgar.”
His sexual posturing has not been restricted to “locker room talk,” and worse still it has directly involved a senior member of the Royal Family. In 2012 paparazzi snapped and sold pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing naked while on a private beach in the South of France. According to Mr Trump it was she, and she alone, who was to blame:
Kate Middleton is great but she shouldn’t be sunbathing in the nude – only herself to blame.
Given the way in which the late Princess Diana – “I only have one regret in the women department – that I never had the opportunity to court Lady Diana Spencer. I met her on a number of occasions.” – was hounded by paparazzi Mr Trump may need all his well-hidden diplomatic skills to explain that one away over the Windsor Castle teacups.
Putting up with unspeakable guests and cosying up to dictators is, of course, all part of the job of being a Royal.
Her Majesty has often had to swallow her scruples along with her Filet de Turbot à l’Amiral and to think of her duty to the perceived national interest while chewing on the Balmoral Estate Longe de Venaisson d’Ecosse Rôtie au Sauce Périgueux. If she did otherwise she would never have made it to the Entremet au Chocolat, Mangue et Citron Vert at the State Banquet with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping in 2015.
Over the years, she has had to offer a warm Royal welcome to some seriously dodgy characters. One of the worst was Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian tyrant who was invited because he had expressed an interest, oddly enough, in a trade deal: specifically a £150M aircraft building programme. The Queen was apparently unenthusiastic about having the Ceausescus to stay, not least because President Giscard D’Estaing had warned her that “light fingered Nic” was not to be trusted with the antiques after his entourage removed many of the fittings from the expensive Paris hotel in which he had stayed. She ordered his rooms to be stripped of anything valuable before he arrived, and then spent much of his visit trying to avoid bumping into him any more than protocol demanded, at one point even concealing herself behind a bush in the palace gardens to avoid the need to make small-talk. In the end it was all to no avail. The deal was signed but Romania ran out of cash to pay. Instead Ceausescu apparently offered to pay in strawberries. Needless to say, when the promised fruit arrived it was rotten.
Saudi potentates and African dictators have all been fairly regular State visitors, many of them with blood dripping from their hands all over the Windsor carpets.
In 2003 The Queen put up Vladimir Putin. At the time the Russian leader had not completely got into his stride of invading his neighbours (if you overlooked the obliteration of Grozny, of course) and murdering his political opponents with radioactive substances – indeed there were still faint hopes that he was a democrat at heart – and the Queen shared a carriage ride down the Mall with him. Her concern was not primarily that he was a singularly wicked and unpleasant man but that she kept confusing him with Andrew Marr. It was not Her Majesty’s fault that relations with Russia have steadily deteriorated ever since.
Anyway, whilst it is true that it is the Royal Family’s job to put up the most unpleasant guests, it is not true that those guests are always well-chosen or that good always comes from indulging them.
So there were plenty of reasons to be cautious about inviting Mr Trump at all, and even more reasons not to invite him to pay a State visit more quickly than any US President in history.
Nevertheless, to revoke Mr Trump’s invitation now would be an extraordinary thing to do. For the sake of a gesture it would shatter at a stroke any hope of forging a “personal relationship” between the Prime Minister and the President, and nasty man though he is, such a relationship could well be of help to Britain in the difficult days that lie ahead. Given Mr Trump’s famously thin skin the snub of publicly cancelling the event might have consequences far more damaging to British interests than a few rude Presidential tweets. A refusal to engage in trade negotiations would be the least we could expect in retaliation from such an unpredictable narcissist. Moreover, it would open the United Kingdom to perfectly justifiable charges of hypocrisy; for all his faults Mr Trump has not committed crimes on the scale of Ceausescu or Putin, and for all his singularly tasteless comments about women in general and members of the Royal Family in particular, he does not preside over a country, like Saudi Arabia, in which discrimination against women is deeply embedded in law. Why, Americans could legitimately ask, do you exclude our President while entertaining the King of a country in which women can be stoned to death for adultery?
But Mrs May made a terrible mistake in rushing to invite this repulsive buffoon to meet the Queen, and she will now pay dearly for it. At a stroke she has thrown away one of her few high value cards and she has seemingly done so for no reward at all. The visit was announced while Mrs May was in Washington. No sooner had she left the country than the President announced his dreadful “anti-muslim” entry rules. The effect was to leave the Prime Minister looking without influence, embarrassed and humiliated.
It is, realistically, now too late to revoke the invitation. We shall just have to demonstrate when he arrives, and let him know that he is not particularly welcome. The Queen should put him in the Ceausescu suite.