Well, this has taken a turn. On Friday, Prime Minister Theresa May, currently in Washington, D.C. meeting with President Donald Trump, revealed that, “I have today been able to convey Her Majesty the Queen’s hope that President Trump would pay a state visit to the UK later this year and I am delighted the President has accepted.”
Trump, obviously, is a bit of a controversial figure both at home and abroad – in the nine days since he was sworn into office there has been the largest single-day demonstration in U.S. history (the Women’s March), multiple calls for his impeachment and the preliminary steps set in motion to develop the “wall” he promised on the campaign trail. Most relevantly, on Friday afternoon he signed an executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries that has caused widespread outrage.
So where does this leave the British? Well, as of Sunday evening, over 800,000 people (and climbing) have signed a petition calling for Trump be barred from meeting Queen Elizabeth due to his “well-documented misogyny and vulgarity” – once a petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it is automatically considered for debate in Parliament. Crucially, the petition does not call for Trump to be prevented from entering the country, but is specifically targeting his ability to make an official state visit and be received at Buckingham Palace (or Windsor Castle or Balmoral Castle, other options for receiving guests during state visits). The reasoning is that it “would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.”
The Independent has reported that as of this afternoon, 1,000 Britons were adding their name to the petition every minute.
Now, there are a couple reasons why this is unlikely to affect plans for a Trump visit, but the most compelling is simply that it would be wildly out of character for the Queen to take such a distinct position on a politician or his politics. If she met with Trump, it would be out of respect to the United States as a country, not an endorsement of him, his party or his administration’s policy. Much in the same way that it wasn’t when she met with President Obama.
There is also the argument captured by Benjamin Knights at Royal Central which stated that Trump meeting with the Queen would actually be to the benefit of Britons (and perhaps to those hesitant of him in the U.S.):
Many people, including senior British politicians, are calling on The Queen to withdraw her invitation to President Trump of an official state visit to the United Kingdom. This would be a grave error.
We have seen how a visit from the British Prime Minister Theresa May had a profound effect on President Trump. She seemingly convinced him to apply restraint to his views on torture and managed to get a “100% commitment” to NATO from the President. Trump likes and respects the United Kingdom, his mother was born in Scotland. British leaders are well positioned to influence his administration.
What an insult to The Queen. To imply that Her Majesty does not know how to deal with a visit from President Trump would be a vast mistake. This is a monarch who has reigned for 65 years, seen international leaders rise and fall, and witnessed the new world order emerge. As President Trump prepares to dismantle that very establishment, it will not be extremely momentous to The Queen. She has seen the Soviet Union collapse, the European Union emerge and spread and the founding of the UN. Donald Trump is The Queen’s thirteenth US President. She is certainly not a novice in any sense of the word.
I am inclined to agree with this sentiment – a meeting with Trump can only improve matters, while the insult that rescinding an invitation would signify would likely make matters far worse. I understand the symbolism of the gesture – and it would be powerful – but it would be just that, symbolism, and there’s an opportunity for more concrete progress to be made.
Now, should Trump roll up to BP, there are actually a few other dynamics that will prove interesting, such as how he’ll be received by the Prince of Wales or the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Back in 2012, Trump address the “France photo scandal” in which long lens cameramen captured a topless Kate sunbathing while on holiday at a private residence and photos were published by French publication Closer. Trump opined on the issue with:
It’s been well-reported that William and Kate were livid over the privacy breach and are apparently “delighted” that those involved are currently on trial.
That wasn’t the only time Trump and the House of Windsor have collided. During the campaign, BBC TV anchor and former friend of Diana, Princess of Wales, Selina Scott, said that Trump aggressively pursued the late princess after her divorce. According to Scott, while Diana was “creeped out” by his gestures at the time, he apparently responded to news of her death by saying it was his “biggest regret” that they hadn’t dated and he always thought he had a “shot” with her.
Now, that is the word of Scott and we have no way of knowing to what extent that story is true or has been embellished, but it does raise the question as to whether Charles, William and Kate will or should participate in the state visit. Charles may be inclined not to out of respect for Diana’s memory, while Kate may feel she’s been personally insulted. William is the one I have the hardest time picturing being able to shake Trump’s hand or pose for a picture with him – he is notoriously protective of both his wife and his mother’s memory.
But, of course, for all three to duck out of festivities would be viewed as an insult. Perhaps it could function as a two birds, one stone situation in which the Queen, and only the Queen, meets with Trump to appease the petition signers and senior politicians that denounced his visit, but I doubt it. Another option would be private meetings which the press could be told about but sidesteps the photo-op. Or maybe an out-of-town official event will remove some combination of the three from London.
Those are possible, but I would imagine at least one will have to show up and it should probably be Prince Charles. If William and Kate help to receive Trump that will the story – those tweets and a re-hashing of the 2012 photos. If Charles and the Queen receive him, then it’s a lot harder to make an argument that the Royal Family has in any way insulted the sitting U.S. president.
That is my prediction, anyway. Then again, everyone might be called upon to demonstrate a stiff upper lip, in which case we are in for one hell of an entertaining state visit…as far as state visits go.