Trump Raises a Rum­pus in Bri­tain

A pe­ti­tion to ban him is de­bated in Par­lia­ment, but such pro­hi­bi­tions don’t al­ways hold up

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - BLOOMBERG VIEW -

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>

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