Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK “should happen and will happen” despite angry protests against it, Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan has told Parliament.
Labour MP Paul Flynn branded the new US president a “petulant child”, while the SNP’s Alex Salmond hit out at Britain’s “fawning subservience” for extending the invite to Mr Trump after he had been in the White House for just a week.
As politicians debated a petition, signed by more than 1.8 million people, to downgrade the visit from the full fanfare of a state occasion, thousands of anti-Trump protesters demonstrated outside parliament.
Sir Alan insisted the visit will go ahead, telling MPs in the Westminster Hall debate: “This is a special moment for the special relationship.
“The visit should happen, the visit will happen and when it does I trust the United Kingdom will extend a polite and generous welcome to president Donald Trump.”
Sir Alan said that state visits – where the guest is hosted by the Queen – are “rare and prestigious”, and are also Britain’s “most important diplomatic tool”.
He said: “They enable us to strengthen and influence those international relationships that are of the greatest strategic importance to this country, and even more widely, to other parts of the world as well.”
A state visit matters so much “because, put simply, diplomacy matters”, he said.
The timing and content of the visit have yet to be agreed, MPs were told.
And there have been no discussions with Washington about the president addressing both Houses of Parliament – an honour previously bestowed upon just a handful of people.
Veteran MP Paul Flynn said the Government must re-examine its decision, and urged ministers to avoid mistakes of the past when “very unsavoury characters” were invited on state visits.
During the debate on Monday, Labour Muslim MP Naz Shah said that a state visit would be tantamount to “endorsing” the views which have made Mr Trump so controversial.
However, several Conservative MPs warned that Britain and the Queen would be made to look foolish if the invite was rescinded.
Conservative James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) said there would be “smiles all round in the Kremlin” if the UK withdrew its offer of a state visit to Mr Trump.
Sir Edward Leigh, another Tory MP, said he had “nothing in common” with Mr Trump’s brand of conservatism.
But whilst some of Mr Trump’s comments – particularly those about grabbing women by their private parts – were “horrible and ridiculous”, many other people will have made ridiculous comments in private.
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, alright?” he told MPs.