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British Parliament Debates Donald Trump's Visit

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Here's how the U.K. parliament spent Presidents Day - debating whether the U.S. president, Donald J. Trump, should meet their queen. The queen of England has invited Trump for a state visit later this year, but more than 1.8 million people signed a petition saying Trump should not enjoy such an honor. For more, we're joined by NPR's Frank Langfitt. And, Frank, could Parliament actually block Trump's visit?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: No, they couldn't, Ari. You know, this is just basically a debate over whether he should meet the Queen. There's not going to be any vote, but it shows how unpopular right now Trump is here.

SHAPIRO: So what were some of the arguments that we heard today for refusing Trump a meeting with the queen?

LANGFITT: Well, you heard everything from disparagement of women to contempt for the news media. Paul Flynn, he's a member of Parliament with the Labour Party, he pointed out that tens of thousands of people came out in London to protest Trump the day after the inauguration. And Flynn delivered this with sort of a typical dry British wit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL FLYNN: It was an expression of fear and anxiety that we had someone in the White House wielding this enormous power, but unfortunately the intellectual capacity of the president is protozoan.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

LANGFITT: Yeah. It's the usual - it's, you know, it's that kind of debate that you get. You would remember 'cause you were here, the kind of debate that you hear in Parliament.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Did anyone in Parliament speak out in defense of President Trump?

LANGFITT: Kind of. Yeah, they did. Nigel Evans, he's a parliamentarian with the conservative Tory Party. Lawmakers, he said, should respect the will of the American people and recognize that a lot of same people who voted for Trump also voted here for Brexit, same kinds of folks. Which, of course, remember, Brexit was very unpopular in Parliament here. And here's how Nigel Evans put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIGEL EVANS: We may not like some of the things that he says, and I certainly don't like some of the things that he's said in the past. But I do respect the fact that he stood on a platform which he is now delivering. He is going to go down in history as being roundly condemned for being the only politician to deliver on his promises.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

LANGFITT: Now, Ari, what really irks people here is that Trump was offered a state visit just a week into office. This is, of course, as you remember, a huge honor, and far sooner than any previous American president. Now David Lammy, he's of the Labour Party, he said he was appalled by this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID LAMMY: Seven days, really? And why? Because this great country is so desperate for a trade deal that we would throw all of our own history out the window?

SHAPIRO: Of course, the British prime minister, Theresa May, did visit the United States briefly after Trump was inaugurated, though it wasn't a state visit. This might be some degree of reciprocity. But tell us about this trade deal that he's talking about.

LANGFITT: Well, this is what it all comes down to. The U.K., of course, with Brexit is leaving the European Union. It needs friends. And Trump has offered a trade deal with the U.S. Most people here think it's not going to really amount to much, but Lammy basically says the government, by doing this, is kind of embarrassing itself.

SHAPIRO: Frank, can you provide a little bit of historical perspective? The special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. is discussed all the time. But there was also a sense during the George W. Bush years that Tony Blair, the prime minister at that point, was the lap dog of the U.S. president. Do you see some of those concerns bubbling back up to the surface all these years later?

LANGFITT: Absolutely, very, very similar. People talk about Theresa May bending over backwards to work with Donald Trump, who's extremely unpopular here in the United Kingdom. And people feel to some degree, some people feel that she's kind of selling out British values.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking with us from London. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ MAKO SONG, "BLU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.