British MPs lined up in Parliament today to pour scorn on “racist and sexist” Donald Trump. They said he should not be granted a state visit to Britain because of the risk it would embarrass the Queen.
The US president was compared to a “petulant child” and MPs questioned his intelligence during a three-hour debate triggered when more than 1.8 million people signed a petition urging prime minister Theresa May to cancel her invitation.
So many politicians packed into the chamber that they had to have their speeches limited to five minutes each.
Alex Salmond, the former Scottish first minister, said he was unsure whether to be appalled by the morality of the invitation or astonished by its stupidity. He referred to May’s recent visit to the White House.
“As an example of fawning subservience, the prime minister holding hands [with Trump] would be difficult to match,” he said.
“To do it in the name of shared values was stomach-churning. What exactly are the shared values that this house, this country would hope to have?”
Labour’s Paul Flynn said only two US presidents had been accorded a state visit to Britain in more than 50 years and it was “completely unprecedented” Trump had been invited within seven days of his presidency.
Flynn – who started the debate because he is on the petitions committee – said Trump would hardly be silenced by the invitation being rescinded, accusing him of a “ceaseless incontinence of free speech”.
Asked by Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, if Trump’s views on climate science should also be taken into account, Flynn replied that the president had shown “cavernous depths of scientific ignorance” on the issue.
They were speaking as thousands of demonstrators descended on Parliament Square to protest against the visit, chanting and waving placards reading “no to racism; no to Trump”.
Lucas and Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary (internal affairs minister), addressed the crowds. Lucas emerged from the debate to describe Trump as a “bully and a bigot”.
Inside the chamber, Flynn was criticised by a Conservative MP when he quoted the Observer Sunday newspaper columnist Andrew Rawnsley describing the visit as the government “pimping out the Queen for Donald Trump”.
Jacob Rees-Mogg responded that it was out of order “to refer to pimping out our sovereign”. He argued that no one had complained when Japan’s emperor Hirohito had a state visit to the UK, although he was responsible for “the rape of Nanking”.
Rees-Mogg was one of a number of Conservative MPs to defend both the president and prime minister. Nigel Evans warned against sneering at the 61 million Americans who voted for the president, describing them as “the forgotten people”.
Adam Holloway said while Trump’s travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries was absurd, it was “rather refreshing” to see a politician actually do what they had promised. Crispin Blunt, who chairs the foreign affairs committee, said the Queen would be embarrassed if the invitation was withdrawn.
Edward Leigh told colleagues he was going to make a “difficult argument” and claimed Trump’s racism and misogyny had been overstated. “Which one of us has not made some ridiculous sexual comment at some point in his past?” he said, prompting an angry response from female MPs.
A number of women MPs stood up to complain of Trump’s sexism. Labour’s Paula Sherriff quoted his infamous “grab her” comment, which she said was sexual assault.
Labour’s Naz Shah said she had once urged Trump to come to her constituency to share a curry and meet a Muslim chief superintendent, headteacher, health workers and so on.
“But to do so now that he is president will only reinforce his actions, his divisive racist and sexist messages. This flies in the face of everything we stand for. We cannot support what he is doing,” she said.
David Lammy warned that African Americans were afraid of the presidency, saying Trump was supported by the Ku Klux Klan and had white supremacists in his inner circle.
However those close to ministers made clear that there would be no pulling back on the invitation and hit out at MPs.
“It would be interesting to see how much time and public money was wasted on today’s debate – it achieved nothing apart from offering some, who have nothing better to do, the opportunity to grandstand,” said a government source.