WASHINGTON – The British Parliament set out Monday afternoon to debate a question that is often argued on this side of pond but has never before been taken up in the halls of Westminster: Is Donald Trump dangerous? Or is he merely a buffoon?
The man who would Make America Great Again, it turns out, has already done a great job of unifying Great Britain. Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum took turns insulting the American billionaire.
“Daft and offensive.”
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“Impulsive, not well informed.”
“Objectionable and hateful.”
“The orange prince of American self-publicity.”
“What is under his hair?”
British legislators giggled as a colleague read aloud some of the puffy plutocrat’s utterances on global warming (“It’s freezing and snowing in New York”) and on the “great” and “inexpensive” border wall he wants to build.
“Let’s be clear: Donald Trump is an idiot,” said Gavin Newlands, an MP from the Scottish National Party.
A Tory MP, declaring Trump “crazy” with “no valid points to make,” said he would like to see Americans challenge Trump with the words that brought down Joe McCarthy: “Have you left no sense of decency?”
“I don’t think Donald Trump should be allowed within 1,000 miles of our shores,” said Labour MP Jack Dromey. “Trump is free to be a fool, but he is not free to be a dangerous fool in Britain.”
Still, the result was good news, of sorts, for the Republican presidential candidate: While there was universal consensus that the billionaire developer is appalling, there was little interest in banning him from entering Britain – if only because that would make him a martyr.
Half a million Britons, reacting to Trump’s pledge to ban Muslims from entering the United States, had signed a petition calling for Trump to be banned from Britain. A travel ban is up to the Home Office, not Parliament, but legislators decided to have a debate because, as Labour MP Paul Flynn said in introducing the topic, “it is very difficult to ignore a vox pop.”
Flynn was apologetic about the debate because it “might well be interpreted as disrespect” to America. But for Americans watching, it was useful proof that Trump is a reviled and preposterous figure to our most important ally and that America would be the laughingstock of the world if we elect him.
MP Sarah Wollaston, who represents Dartmouth, noted that the Pilgrims sailed from there four centuries ago “to escape the kind of religious persecution that we are addressing today.” She argued that if Britain were to ban Trump, it “would send a very clear message to the people of the United States about what we feel about those who demonize an entire people for no reason other than their religion.”
On Monday, Trump was at Liberty University in Virginia, warning his evangelical Christian audience that “our country is disappearing fast.” Across the Atlantic, in the Grand Committee Room of Westminster Hall, Tulip Siddiq, a Muslim and an MP, was at that moment speaking about the “need to stop a poisonous, corrosive man from entering our country.” She listed some of his many attacks on women, his racist “dog whistles” and his proposed ban on Muslims.
Some Tories lamented the sad state of the Republican Party. Conservative Steve Double said he was “surprised” by Trump’s support because he “seems to cut right against the heritage and the values that I understand the Republican Party to have.”
But while there was no defense of Trump in the House of Commons, most in the debate thought it counterproductive to ban him from Britain, rather than employing, as one put it, “a classic British response of ridicule.”
That British natural resource was in abundant supply in Parliament on Monday.
Conservative Paul Scully, though calling Trump’s conduct “not acceptable for an aspiring world leader,” said travel bans to Britain are issued for “incitement and hatred, but I’ve never heard of one for stupidity.”
Gavin Robinson, from Northern Ireland, described Trump’s style of discourse: “He throws a dead cat on the table, and people stop and listen to him.”
One of the most powerful contributions came from Naz Shah, a “proud British Muslim woman” who called Trump “evil” and a “demagogue.” But she said she wouldn’t ban Trump from Britain but rather “invite him for a curry.”
“Given that it is Martin Luther King Day,” she said, invoking the American holiday, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.