As I write this column, members of the UK Parliament are debating whether or not to ban Donald Trump from entering Britain.
They’ve allocated three hours of time to do this.
Time that could have been spent debating terrorism, famine, nuclear weapons, the Middle East refugee crisis or the Syrian War.
But no, instead British law-makers have concluded their own time is best served seriously considering a proposal to ban a man who may end up being the next President of the United States.
The reason they’re doing it is, of course, is because Trump recently called for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. in the wake of an horrific mass shooting by two Islamic terrorists.
Like many, I didn’t agree with what Trump said and indeed, I wrote him an open letter at the time saying it was ‘dangerously wrong and bigoted’.
But to ban a foreign politician for expressing an opinion is utterly absurd. Particularly a foreign politician who stands an increasingly good chance of becoming leader of the world’s biggest superpower and Britain’s supposedly closest, most powerful ally.
Can you imagine a situation where President Trump, if he is elected, is actually banned? It would make Britain the laughing stock of the world, and confirm to Americans that we’re just as pathetically petty and small pond in our thinking as you’ve always suspected.
It would also cause serious, probably irreparable damage to Britain’s relationship with the United States.
The sheer hypocrisy in all this ‘Ban Trump’ nonsense is breathtaking.
Britain throws down the red carpet and blares out the royal bugles all the time for leaders of countries with heinous human rights records.
King Salman of Saudia Arabia can allow 50 people to be beheaded last month and nobody in the corridors of British officialdom batted a public eyelid. Yet he is treated like some kind of deity when he arrives in Britain in his fleet of gold-plated jets.
Russian President Vladimir Putin commits and spouts all manner of despicable, murderous, bigoted things and Britain welcomes him with State dinners at Buckingham Palace and handshakes outside Downing Street.
As for Chinese President Xi Jinping, there is barely enough room in my expansive sick bucket to cope with my involuntary spewing at all the sycophantic grovelling that goes on when he swings into my home country.
It’s always been like this.
I remember standing with Tony Blair inside his No10 office in 1997 as Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were leaving after the first historic visit to Downing Street by Irish Republicans in 75 years.
‘Should I wear rubber gloves, Prime Minister?’ I asked as he proffered his hand.
‘You think those two are bad, you should have seen some of the African leaders I had in last week…’ he replied.
I don’t remember any parliamentary debates to have any of them banned.
But one wrong word from Donald Trump, and all hell breaks loose.
This ghastly monster must be stopped!
I know how Trump’s feeling better than most because I faced a similar attempt in the U.S. to have me deported for my views on guns.
More than 150,000 Americans signed an official White House petition demanding that I be booted out of the country for having the audacity to suggest better gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre.
(In fact, to my chagrin, there was also a rival petition which started up in the UK insisting I be banned from going home. So yes, Donald, my fellow Brits have tried to ban me too…)
What was interesting, and relevant, about the U.S. petition was how the White House handled it.
Obliged to respond to any petition that gathered over 25,000 signatures, President Obama instructed his then press secretary Jay Carney to announce that I would not be deported.
This is what Carney said: ‘Let’s not let arguments over the Constitution’s Second Amendment violate the spirit of its First. President Obama believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms. However the Constitution also enshrines the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press–fundamental principles that are essential to our democracy.
‘Americans may disagree on matters of public policy and express those disagreements vigorously, but no one should be punished by the government simply because he or she expressed a view on the Second Amendment or any other matter of public concern.’
So I was saved because the President concluded I was perfectly entitled to air my opinion about a matter of public concern.
How is this relevant to Trump? Well, let’s go back to why he said what he said and when he said it.
His call to ‘ban Muslims’ came in the immediate aftermath of the deadly terror attack in San Bernardino, California, which killed 14 people and wounded 22 more.
For a country still feeling the very deep scars of 9/11, this was another hammer blow to national security and confidence.
It confirmed many Americans’ worst fears that there are radicalised Islamic terrorists living in their midst preparing to commit atrocities.
Trump, as is his style, didn’t mince his words.
His suggestion was brutally simplistic and to many–including me–brutally offensive.
But it didn’t mean he hates all Muslims.
Nor did it mean he wants all Muslims banned forever from America.
He specifically said he wanted a short-term bar on Muslim visitors being allowed into the U.S. until the current immigration policy is re-examined, believing the rules are too lax and making it too easy for potential Islamic terrorists to slip into the country.
He may or may not be right about that, I have no idea.
But there’s a distinction in what he actually said and how it’s been interpreted.
There’s also a matter of perspective.
Right now, there are believed to be hundreds of British Muslims who’ve left UK shores to fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
None of them has been banned from returning.
Yet the UK Parliament appears more concerned with keeping out a billionaire real estate tycoon with a propensity for saying outrageous things but no track record, so as far as I’m aware, of murdering people.
I’ve been a fierce critic of the Second Amendment, believing it to be a deeply politicised clause in the Constitution which has cost vast numbers of innocent lives.
But I’m an equally fierce supporter of the First Amendment and wish we had something like it in Britain.
If we did, then Donald Trump would be free to express his opinion on an ‘issue of public concern’ – however unpalatable.
Just as I was free America to attack the pro-gun lobby in America who don’t want to do anything about school shootings.
Today’s Parliamentary debate is an affront to proper democracy, a stupendous waste of time, and it shames Britain.
I can only apologise to Donald Trump and to America for this embarrassing farce.