US presidents should always be made welcome in the UK

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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A protest will be held in Belfast city centre this evening to register opposition to Donald Trump’s ongoing state visit to the United Kingdom.

The US president will encounter such demonstrations and expressions of disapproval wherever he travels on this visit to Britain, and then on his brief stopover in the Republic of Ireland at the end of the week.

In the UK, like in the US itself, there is extraordinary freedom to protest and speak freely and share and criticise ideas.

Think back 20 years, to the early days of the progressive, so-called ‘New Labour’ government, when it rolled out the red carpet for the then Chinese president Jiang Zemin.

As the then UK deputy prime minister John Prescott led British ministers in a rendition of ‘For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow’, in praise of the authoritarian and humourless Mr Zemin, Chinese protestors demonstrated outside.

How right they were to do so, a mere 10 years after the Tiananmen Square bloodbath, in which hundreds of students were massacred in their tents by soldiers, who rolled over them in tanks and crushed them to death, because they had the temerity to demand democracy.

But democracy never came. Indeed, it is not possible even to talk candidly in China today about what happened in 1989. Yet there were no major protests by British (as opposed to Chinese) people when Mr Zemin came, a man whose record on human rights is incomparably worse than that of the much mocked Mr Trump.

So while the protestors of course have a right to protest against the US president, the contrast between the political heritage of America in expanding fundamental human freedoms over the centuries, while many other countries have curtailed them, is one reason why any US leader, whoever it is, should always be most welcome in the UK.

We have been lucky in Northern Ireland to have several presidents visit our small country. Perhaps Mr Trump will one day join that number, and he will be most welcome if so.