No 10 sparks confusion over Theresa May's invite to Donald Trump
This morning’s Downing Street lobby briefing got a bit lively.
Downing Street spin chiefs have moved to distance Theresa May from moves to roll out the red carpet for Donald Trump.
As the petition against the state visit for the US president hit a million signatures this morning, a Number 10 spokesman would not say whether the prime minister was concerned about the groundswell of opposition.
Number 10 did appear to shift the blame to Boris Johnson - by pointing to an obscure committee within the Foreign Office. But there was confusion at this morning's Westminster lobby briefing as the spokesman could not say who was on the committee or why Trump was being given a state visit so soon after his inauguration.
“Each year the government looks at the recommendations that are made by the committee for state visits,” the spokesman said.
Journalists were told that the previously unheard of committee “works within the Foreign Office”. It was not made clear whether the prime minister had any involvement with the committee.
Asked why Trump had been granted a state visit already, the spokesman said: "There is no set timing that a president needs to be in office before they receive, or don’t receive, an invitation for a state visit.”
It later emerged that the Royal Visits Committee is chaired by Foreign Office mandarin Sir Simon McDonald, and is made up civil servants representing the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and the prime minister.
Lobby briefing – edited highlights
Journalist: Would the PM like to see a debate in Westminster Hall following the petition?
No 10: That is an issue for Parliament and Parliament will decide whether it debates it and in what format.
Journalist: What’s the general reaction to so many people expressing their concern?
No 10: As I said, in terms of a debate that’s a matter for parliament. I don’t think there’s any more to add.
Journalist: Has the PM expressed any reaction to the fact that a million people have signed the petition? There does seem to be a groundswell of opposition.
No 10: In terms of the petition being signed, it has been signed by however many people have signed it. It will be a matter for parliament now whether it is debated. What we’ve been clear on is that we have extended this invitation to the president and it has been accepted.
Journalist: Does the PM have any sympathy for people who believe Trump should not be given this royal treatment?
No 10: As I said the invitation has been accepted. We have a close relationship between the UK and the US. It’s right that relationship continues.
Journalist: Does the PM regret offering a state visit to Donald Trump?
No 10: I’ve been very clear that we have a close relationship with the United States… It’s right that we continue to foster that relationship...
Journalist: Is the prime minister looking forward to the state visit?
No 10: The invitation to a state visit has been made and it has been accepted.
Journalist: Why was the state visit invitation issued so quickly when normally presidents have to wait a few years?
No 10: There is no set timing that a president needs to be in office before they receive, or don’t receive, an invitation for a state visit. There is a process for state visits. Each year the government looks at the recommendations that are made by the committee for state visits, those recommendations are then put to Buckingham Palace, the palace then needs to agree to the visit, then, historically the invitation is extended on behalf of Her Majesty by the government, and that is the process that took place this time.
Journalist: What is the state visits committee? I’ve never heard of it.
No 10: It works within the Foreign Office.
Journalist: Does the PM care that 1m people have signed this petition?
No 10: I’ve dealt with the issue of the petition. The petition has been signed, it’s up to parliament now whether it’s debated. We’ve been clear all long that we don’t agree with these restrictions. The invitation has been extended and it has been accepted.
Journalist: How big does the petition have to be for the prime minister to care about it?
No 10: The issue here is do we agree with the restrictions? No we don’t. Where UK nationals’ right were affected, did we stand up for them? Yes we did.
Journalist: No the issue is that we’ve said we’re rolling out the red carpet for Trump less than a week after he’s been inaugurated.
No 10: There is no set time frame on how long someone has to be president before they’re invited for a state visit. The process for a state visits is very clearly structured and set out.
Journalist: No it’s not!
No 10: It is.
Journalist: What is it?
No 10: There is a process by which each year the Government looks at recommendations made by the committee for state visits, those are put to Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace agrees to those state visits and then the invitation is extended on behalf of Her Majesty by the Government.
Journalist: Who sits on the committee?
No 10: The Foreign Office hold the pen on this.
Journalist: So the whole process was initiated by the Foreign Office?
No 10: The government looks at recommendations for state visits, those are put to the Palace…
Journalist: Is the PM on the committee?
No 10: I don't know who sits on the committee..