Trump Raises a Rumpus in Britain
A petition to ban him is debated in Parliament, but such prohibitions don’t always hold up
Surely the British Parliament had a better way to spend three hours. On Jan. 18, MPs debated the merits of a petition signed by more than 500,000 Britons demanding that the government block Donald Trump from setting foot on their sceptered isle. It might be the worst idea since London Mayor Boris Johnson decided to ride a zip line during the 2012 Olympics—and to his credit, Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has declared there’s no chance of the ban happening.
British law requires Parliament to consider for debate any petition receiving 100,000 or more signatures. The petition’s supporters are appalled—understandably—at Trump’s demagogic tendencies. His pandering to antiforeign sentiment, while odious, has earned him a following among Americans. Britons aren’t seeking to bar those who say quietly what Trump says loudly, and for good reason: Democracies require tolerance of widely diverging political viewpoints.
British policy does allow the Home Office to bar foreigners who engage in “unacceptable behaviours.” Among those caught in this dragnet is conservative American radio host Michael Savage, whose nativist views have been deemed a threat to public security by the U.K. Still, a 2009 British ban on Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who wants to prohibit the construction of mosques and the selling of the Quran, didn’t withstand judicial scrutiny, and Britain appears to have survived his subsequent visit unscathed. Likewise, it has survived visits from Trump, who owns two golf courses in Scotland and has traveled to the U.K. many times without incident. (He never travels without controversy, which isn’t quite the same thing.)
Governments are justified in barring foreigners who advocate or incite violence and terrorism. But that power ought to be used with the greatest of care, not in response to petitions fueled by political passions. <BW>