He's poisonous, he's idiotic, he's a demagogue — but we should invite him in with a smile. That was the view of most British politicians who were debating on Monday whether US presidential candidate Donald Trump should be banned from entering the UK for hate speech.
"If Donald Trump met one of my constituents in a pub they may well tell him he is a wassock," said Victoria Atkins, an MP for the Conservative party, during the session that was scheduled after a petition calling to bar him entry gathered more than half a million signatures. But British values were strong enough that there was no need to worry about his "bonkers" proposals, she added.
Banning Trump would give him a "halo of martyrdom," said Labour party MP Paul Flynn, leading the debate. MPs had to consider that this "ridiculous person" might be elected, he warned — and in that scenario the US might then interpret a ban as a sign of disrespect for their entire nation.
"I would invite him here," said Flynn. "It would be pleasure to take him down to Brixton [in South London] and show him the rich mixture of races and creeds living there… We should greet the extreme things he says by our politeness and courtesy… with friendship, knowledge and truth."
'Throw a dead cat on a table and people will stop and take notice — that's his entire style of politics'
Members of parliament were forced to consider a Trump ban after a wave of public outrage in Britain over his Islamophobic and racist comments culminating in a call to ban all Muslims from entering the US.
The UK government responds to all petitions that gain more than 10,000 signatures, and the proposals made by them are considered for parliamentary debate if they gather 100,000 signatures. The petition to ban Trump has now gained more than 570,000 signatures.
All MPs were seemingly in agreement that Trump was a hateful, idiotic man. "Throw a dead cat on a table and people will stop and take notice — that's his entire style of politics," said Democratic Unionist party MP Gavin Robinson. But many thought the proposal to ban him was simply giving him more welcome publicity and more credence to his views. Moreover, freedom of speech meant the freedom to offend.
"In a free country you have the right to offend people — I offend people in this house all the time" said Sir Edward Leigh, a Conservative backbencher. "This man may become president of our most important ally. We shouldn't lower ourselves to demagoguery when fighting demagogues. Most of us oppose [Trump] for demonizing his opponents. If we ban him are we not in danger of doing the same?"
To ban him would be "a spectacular own goal," said Kwasi Kwarteng, a Conservative MP. Tom Tugendhat, also Conservative, said Trump was "crazy," but "I will not be the one to silence his voice." It was for the American people to judge him and hold him to account, he said.
Adam Holloway, also Conservative, said the fact MPs were debating whether to ban Trump was "embarrassing" and made Britain "look totalitarian." Britain "should apologize to the people of the United States," he said.
'I draw the line at freedom of speech when it actually invites violent ideology'
But other MPs in favor of the ban pointed out that other people had been banned from the UK for comments very similar to those made by Trump. Tulip Siddiq, a North London Labour MP, referenced the case of a female blogger banned after she equated all Muslims with terrorist extremists.
"Are we going to start making exceptions for billionaire politicians even when their words are clearly falling short of Home Office guidance [on who should be allowed and denied entry]?," Siddiq said, highlighting that Islamophobic attacks had risen in the US as Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric had grown in recent months. "Hate crime is being enflamed by the words Trump is using. I draw the line at freedom of speech when it actually invites violent ideology."
Various celebrities or high-ranking public figures have been refused from entering the UK in the past for fostering hatred, "posing a threat to public order," or "not being conducive to the public good" — including US rapper Tyler the Creator, ex-boxer Mike Tyson, Jamaican reggae star Jah Cure, and US "pick-up artist" Julien Blanc.
Scottish National Party MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh said the UK Home Office had already banned 84 people on the grounds of hate speech, and Trump should become the 85th. "We are not trying to interfere in American politics, we are simply asking the Home Secretary to be consistent," she said.
"He is a fool, he is free to be a fool, but he is not free to be a dangerous fool on our shores," said Jack Dromey, a Labour MP and a shadow Home Office minister. "In the current febrile climate ISIS [the Islamic State] needs Donald Trump and Donald Trump needs ISIS. I don't think Donald Trump should be allowed within 1,000 miles of our shore because he would embolden the EDL [a far-right anti-Muslim protest movement] on the one hand and fuel the flames of terrorism on the other hand."
But Naz Shah, an MP from the city of Bradford, whose population is around a quarter Muslim, said while she valued and respected the views of those wishing to ban Trump, she thought hate should be confronted with love. Quoting both the Quran and Martin Luther King, highlighting the fact it was MLK Day in the US, she said: "I stand here as a proud British Muslim woman, he would like me banned, and I say in my Islam… If someone does bad, you do good in return. I will not let rhetoric of badness into my life, into my heart… I have decided to stick with love."