Welcoming Trump to the UK has been a controversial subject debated in the houses of Commons and Lords. But the reality remains: opposing the US president’s visit is expedient if you choose to ignore the facts.
All manner of puerile and regressive ideas have been voiced by Spartist agigators, but Donald Trump is the elected leader of the world’s most powerful democracy and coincidentally our closest ally, voted into office by millions of Americans. And whatever your contention on their misconceptions, Americans remain, overall, a good and kind people with whom we are connected by ties of friendship and blood.
Conveniently, they also imported in excess of £100 billion this year from the UK. The partnership transcends economics or foreign policy or the more subliminal skeins of shared intelligence. It is about shared values. In opposing the visit of POTUS to this country, they risk damaging the national interest they claim to look after.
News of inviting Donald Trump on a state visit to the UK earlier this year sparked outrage and mass protests forcing the trip to be postponed. Some of the fastest growing UK government petitions have been to ban Donald Trump from entering the UK.
More than 1.6 million people signed a petition amid the row to prevent Trump entering the UK on a state visit which was scheduled for February 2018. The petition which was set up in July 2015 is now the second most popular on the government’s website, only beaten by a petition calling for a second EU Referendum. It is worth noting that the fourth most popular petition is to block Trump entering the UK all together, not exclusively for a state visit.
Whilst many of Trumps’ policies and ideas anger me, particularly in relation to climate change, immigration and women; resisting his visit to the UK risks both the relationship we have with the world’s most powerful democracy and our best short-term, national interest.
Our departure from the EU makes our future with Europe economically uncertain, so shouldn’t discussing this with our closest ally be of the utmost importance? Furthermore, improving our relationship with the US will only serve to strengthen our global bargaining power and influence in the future.
It also seems somewhat paradoxical. State visits to the UK in the past have been granted to other leaders despite perpetrating horrific war crimes and violating human rights. Under Robert Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe, 10,000 civilians were killed by his Fifth Brigade between 1982 and 1985. In 1994 he was invited and welcomed to the UK on a state visit.
In 2003, Putin indulged in the banquets and displays of grandeur in Buckingham Palace during his state visit. Only 3 years earlier, in February 2000, the international community condemned Russia’s involvement in the Chechnya Crisis; during which time Putin was Director of Russia’s Federal Security Service. Come May, he won the presidency. Amid mild protest, he followed through with the diplomatic mission. These are two of many questionable examples where state visits in the past have been granted. So why should Trump be disallowed?
This week the UK rolls the red carpet for Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. He will not only be greeted by the Queen, members of the Royal Family and Theresa May, but protesters too. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has pulled campaigners together in Downing Street to challenge Saudi Arabia’s involvement and to suspend arms sales.
However, despite the atrocities occurring in Yemen, only 12,000 people signed a petition to withdraw his invitation, compared to nearly 2 million to prevent Trump.
Despite petitions calling for the cancelling of Saudi’s state visit, it must take place. It is important for our PM to discuss urgent matters, including the disaster in Yemen. Other topics of discussion on the list include: defence, security, extremism, trade and investment opportunities, offering Britain post-Brexit FDI, access to new markets and opportunities.
Whilst being Britain’s most important trading partner in the Middle East and a potential future ally, nurturing our relationship is imperative. Additionally, as Saudi Arabia is transforming through the Crown Prince’s modernist approach and Vision 2030, putting ourselves at the front of the queue to support Saudi Arabia during its social and political transformation will only benefit us.
As the Crown Prince is next in line to be king with a fresh philosophy in store for his country partly underway already, it is in our interest to shape this relationship as best we can to give us a more effective voice as our presence in soft power diminishes.
If the Crown Prince’s state visit or entry was rejected, wouldn’t we be missing an important opportunity to influence action? By allowing such a leader into the UK doesn’t necessarily mean we condone their actions, but it means we can acknowledge them, make UK concerns clear and try to steer change.
Before criticising governments away from home shouldn’t we be taking a closer look at our own? Saudi Arabia is the UK’s biggest arms customer. It has generated £6 billion in sales in the arms industry. We are essentially fuelling the crisis in Yemen and arguably a big player to blame.
Yemen is in a desperate situation and needs intervention which Theresa May insisted she would address during his visit. Aren’t these the steps we need to be taking?
Trump’s state visit was deterred by protesters, however the crisis in Yemen and a conversation to bring an end to the conflict was on the agenda.
Whilst I don’t condone in any way the atrocities and crimes carried out under governments whose leaders have accepted state visit invitations, or all of Trump’s plans and policies, I don’t think protesting against their entry does anything to help. It is even more foolish to try to ban their entry altogether. For example, in the case of Trump, the decision is short sighted, given the UK’s unstable future, and ironic, given past state visits from leaders who have accepted our invitation.
Lucinda Obank is a second-year Geography student at The University of Manchester