LONDON: Thousands of people have protested outside Westminster in London overnight as a House of Commons debate raged inside over the decision by the May Government to offer US President Donald Trump a state visit to the UK. Protesters are trying to get Prime Minister Theresa May to withdraw her offer of a state visit and an audience with the Queen when Mr Trump visits sometime in the European summer. But Ms May, desperate to reinforce the relationship between the US and the UK to offset fallout from the Brexit decision, is determined to push ahead with the state visit, despite fierce criticism. Several major rallies have already been held in London, mostly in response to Mr Trump’s now-blocked bid to suspend travel to the US by people from seven Muslim countries. Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, a former Conservative MP, has put his career on the line by denouncing Mr Trump’s “racist’’ and “sexist’’ policies and saying he should not be given the honour of making a speech in Parliament’s grandest venue, Westminster Hall. Around 10,000 people rallied for five hours overnight in Parliament Square, causing traffic chaos for commuters in and around Westminster. Inside the palaces of Westminster, a string of opposition MPs got to their feet to denounce the planned visit.
The rally was part of an organised global movement to use the US President’s Day holiday to protest against the new US president’s policies. The planned visit by Mr Trump to the UK is proving a political and logistical headache for the Government, and the royal visit is also causing concern. Mr Trump has let it be known he does not intend to be “lectured’’ by Prince Charles on climate change, which the president has dismissed as a Chinese hoax. He is thought to be more interested in meeting the photogenic “young royals’’ Prince William and his wife Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge. A visit to see Queen Elizabeth and her son and heir Prince Charles is likely to involve the full pomp of a carriage-ride to Buckingham Palace. More than 1.8 million people have signed an online petition calling for the state visit offer to be withdrawn. The Government is trying to manage the domestic fallout while at the same time push ahead with the state visit, as part of a push to sign an important trade deal with the US. Junior foreign minister Alan Duncan was sent out to defend the visit last night, telling Parliament that such visits were Britain’s “most important diplomatic tool’’ and that Mr Trump’s visit would proceed as planned. “In the light of America’s absolutely pivotal role we believe it entirely right that we should use all the tools at our disposal to build common ground with President Trump,’’ Mr Duncan said.