British lawmakers have scheduled a debate for later this month on a petition signed by more than 500,000 people seeking to ban U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump from Britain.
Last month Trump, a billionaire real estate developer and frontrunner among Republican candidates, prompted international outrage by calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States "until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on."
He proposed the ban after a December 2 mass shooting that killed 14 people in California by two Muslims whom the FBI said had been radicalized.
The debate, called by the Petitions Committee of the lower house of parliament, will be held on January 18 but any conclusion reached by the lawmakers will not be binding, The Associated Press reported.
'Views to be expressed'
"By scheduling a debate... the committee is not expressing a view on whether or not the government should exclude Donald Trump from the UK," House of Commons Petitions Committee Chairwoman Helen Jones said. "As with any decision to schedule a petition for debate, it simply means that the committee has decided that the subject should be debated.
"A debate will allow a range of views to be expressed," Jones said.
In the past, people have been banned from entering Britain for fostering hatred that might provoke inter-community violence.
Anti-Muslim American speakers such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer have been blocked from entering the country by these rules before, as have extremist Islamic preachers and others whose presence the home secretary has decided would "not be conducive to the public good," the Washington Post reported.
In December, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Trump's comments were "divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong."
Finance Minister George Osborne said Trump's comments flew in the face of the founding principles of America but that banning him from Britain was not the best way to respond.
Critic launched petition
The petition was launched by longtime Trump critic Suzanne Kelly, a Scottish-based campaigner, who said, "The U.K. has banned entry to many individuals for hate speech. The same principles should apply to everyone who wishes to enter the U.K. If the United Kingdom is to continue applying the ‘unacceptable behavior’ criteria to those who wish to enter its borders, it must be fairly applied to the rich as well as poor, and the weak as well as powerful.”
The British government responds to all petitions that gain more than 10,000 signatures and topics are considered for parliamentary debate if they reach 100,000.
A separate petition, which opposes banning Trump from the country, has been signed by nearly 40,000 people. It will also be debated.
Helen Fenwick, a professor at Durham Law School, told the Post that some supporters of the Trump ban say that the American businessman should be banned from the country because he has incited hatred on the grounds of religion, something made illegal by Britain's hate speech legislation. However, Fenwick doubts that Trump's comments would fall within that definition – his comments were insulting rather than threatening, she noted to the paper.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.