Donald and Melania Trump will visit Britain in June for their first state visit, and the people of Airstrip One are preparing a right royal welcome. Last time, the plebs floated a giant orange baby in the sky, and marched in the streets of London. This time, they’re planning a traditional British welcome, including medieval rituals like the Trolling of the Guard, the Naked Protest at the State Banquet, and the Insulting of the Closest Ally.
The constitutional status of the Insulting the Closest Ally ritual is murky, but the key part of the procedure is ostentatiously refusing to invite the American president to address the House of Commons. Many Americans carry a copy of the Constitution in their pockets, and whip it out whenever their rights are threatened. The British have nothing in that pocket except small change and hard candy, because they have no constitution. Instead, they have a tradition, its elements assembled from quick fixes and dirty compromises, hallowed by time, and besmirched by grubby handling.
The perils of muddling through are eloquently illustrated by the fiasco of Brexit, now and quite possibly forever jammed in the passageways of parliamentary procedure. This might not be Britain’s darkest hour, but the light, like the plumbing in the House of Commons, is failing. Earlier this month, the ongoing fiasco in the Mother of Parliaments reached a more than usually absurd pitch when the Commons chamber was flooded by the bursting of pipes overhead. Tragically, the pipes only carried fresh water.
In the absence of a Constitution, the proposing of means to unblock Britain’s procedural drains is the Speaker of the House. Currently, this political plumber is a political pygmy named John Bercow. He is supposed to be a Conservative MP, but is believed to have considered defecting to Labour. He is said to be so unpopular with his fellow Conservatives that he won his election as Speaker with only a handful of Conservative votes, and the unanimous support of the other parties, who wanted to put one of their own in the chair.
Bercow’s innovations as Speaker have all been disastrous. He has replaced the Speaker’s traditional, tourist-friendly costume with a modern suit and tie, the suit having been slept in the night before, and the tie invariably a lurid novelty of the kind that warns that its bearer is under the delusion that he is endowed with both taste and humor. He has grandstanded shamelessly for the cameras, turning himself into a pint-sized GIF by braying ‘Orrrder! Orrrder!’ in a manner evoking a publican at closing time or a donkey in labor. He has shoved his spanner into the works of Brexit in dubiously democratic fashion, apparently to favor the Remain side which lost the 2016 referendum. And in February 2017, he called for the Commons to refuse to invite Donald Trump to speak in the chamber.
The invitation, Bercow said, was not an ‘automatic right’, but ‘an earned honor’. Speaking personally, Bercow said that the Commons’ ‘opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary’ meant that it should keep Trump off the premises. As there is no constitutional procedure for randomly insulting your best friends, Bercow’s intervention effectively amounted to a ban.
This was absurd for many reasons. The House of Commons, as Trump may yet find out, is not a golf club. The presidency of the United States is also an honor that has to be earned. If a majority of Americans feel that Donald Trump has earned it, then Britain’s representatives should honor that opinion, and salute the uniform, if not the man. As for Trump’s character, the benches of the Commons are already stacked with racists, sexists, crooks, creeps, philanderers, snobs, frequenters of brothels and Scottish nationalists. Perhaps the Labour MP Fiona Onasanye, who recently became the first sitting member to be imprisoned — fiddling her parking tickets — can give Trump some tips on avoiding impeachment.
Trump’s state visit will include ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Given Americans’ support and sacrifice for Britain in World War Two, this alone should constitute an earned honor for the American president in perpetuity. But there is no constitutional precedent here, only the constitutional egotism and chippiness of John Bercow. With Britain at odds with its 27 nearest neighbors and unsure of its post-Brexit future, it’s not just good manners to give the American president a warm welcome. It’s in the national interest.
‘It’s not something over which we have control,’ said a spokesman for Theresa May, who these days has no control over anything to do with the national interest.
Lord Fowler, the Conservative who is Speaker of the Lords, has sallied into the constitutional breach. Fowler says that there is ‘a strong case for a speech by the president, particularly on such an important anniversary’, and that he would make the decision jointly with Bercow.
We may yet see Bercow perform another ancient ritual, the Reversal of the Virtue Signal, a humbling pioneered by Henry VIII, and recently revived on social media. And while he’s at it, there’s another ancient ritual that Bercow can assist with.
Sadly, the post of court jester has fallen into abeyance. To honor Trump’s visit and Bercow’s inanity, it’s time to revive it. Perhaps Bercow can enliven the royal banquet at Buckingham Palace in cap and bells, and entertain everyone with the uninvited interruptions to which he is so prone. It is in the interest of Transatlantic stability that he be thrown into a fountain at the end of the night.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.