Why I Won't Sign The Petition Against Trump's State Visit To The UK

I'm not really a demonstrative person, but I will make an exception this evening. There's a rally in my home town billed as a "Peaceful demonstration against Trump's Muslim ban" and I feel I ought to go. The weather, according to the Facebook invitation, is eight degrees and cloudy, so it shouldn't be too bad.

A protest in Seattle yesterday against President Donald Trump's travel ban.Reuters

If that sounds a bit less than a white-hot rage against injustice, it's perhaps because the demonstration – and many others like it – has become conflated with a petition that's already the second largest in UK history. It says: "Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government, but he should not be invited to make an official State Visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen." It's already topped a million and a quarter signatures, and is surpassed only by the one calling for a second referendum on leaving EU.

Well, we know what happened to that one, and this is going the same way. The government has said the visit will be going ahead because it remains "substantially in the national interest".

Just to be clear: I'm appalled by Trump's action on refugees. I think it will do limitless harm to some of the most vulnerable people in the world. People will die, because of a piece of populist paranoia not grounded in any sort of rational analysis of the real situation. You know what? America's refugee policy is working just fine. And that CBN interview when Trump alleged that under Obama, "If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible"? That was a flat-out lie. According to the Pew Center, in 2016 the US admitted almost the same numbers of Muslims and Christians in 2016, at 37,521 to 38,901 respectively. Furthermore, "Overall, a far larger total number of Christian refugees than Muslim refugees have entered the US since fiscal 2002." Given the relative numbers of Christians and Muslims in conflict regions, that means under Obama there was a massive bias to Christians.

Trump's order is a terrifying foreshadowing of the shape of things to come: destructive, chaotic randomness without the slightest nod to effectiveness, justice or basic humanity, generated by a man uniquely unqualified for the office to which he was elected. It takes a lot to get me out on a demo, as I say, but for him I'll make an exception.

Why, then, my lack of enthusiasm?

Because that petition goes beyond protest to policy, and makes demands of the British government it would be utterly stupid and counter-productive to agree to. It appeals to a sort of moral absolutism to which Christians are particularly attracted – and it would be disastrous.

After the Brexit vote, Britain is staring into the economic abyss. We desperately need a decent trade deal with America. Donald Trump is a petulant child, but Theresa May held his hand and walked away with his good will. Refusing him the honour of a state visit with all the trimmings – meeting the Queen included – would be a monumental insult and the height of political folly. And for what? Virtue signalling: the pleasure of saying, "We're better than you are", with the click of a mouse.

I'm sure some of those who've signed that petition are friends of mine. They all, I'm sure, have the right instincts, in terms of moral outrage. But when the real lives of real people are involved, sometimes you have to do what's expedient rather than what you feel like doing. As it happens, no one knows that better than the Queen. During her long reign she has shaken hands and made polite conversation with people she knows have committed every crime under the sun, including murder and torture. She's done it because it was her duty.

Christians don't always get this. I'm sure some will read what I've written and think how dreadful it is that considerations of economics and defence and intelligence should override our horror at the awfulness of Trump. Well: it is. But the world is pretty dreadful sometimes, and to make it a little less dreadful it needs people who will get their hands just dirty enough to be able to do some good. It doesn't mean we approve of them or that we don't see how badly they're behaving. It means we know we have to work with what we have to get the best results we can.

So I am not joining in the vitriol directed against Theresa May, and I won't be signing that petition.

But I will be out on that demonstration tonight – even if it rains.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods