Trump being invited so early is unusual, but plans had been made for Clinton tooby Arthur Snell / February 8, 2017 / Leave a comment
“It’s a nightmare,” my colleague remarked, head in hands. “The only people that care he’s coming are the ones who plan to protest, his team is impossible to please and we can’t think of anything meaningful to do during the visit.”
The task of arranging the state visit of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2007 proved challenging, as I recall from my peripheral involvement at the time. State visits require a set of largely meaningless ceremonial activities to appear to be profound expressions of two countries’ shared values and fraternal relations. For Saudi Arabia, a conference on youth and education had to have a carefully constructed agenda that avoided any controversy. The most striking message to King Abdullah had been sent by her Majesty when she took him for a drive: the female head of state who drove ambulances in wartime driving the head of a state that forbids females from driving. Nonetheless, the media was largely negative and protesters drew attention to the Saudis’ poor human rights record.
Some of the difficulties of state visits are more mundane: the visiting ruler is a guest of Her Majesty and will usually stay at Buckingham Palace; but it turns out it’s one of those houses that looks bigger from the outside and doesn’t have many spare rooms. So the visiting party has to be warned that only a tiny number of the inner circle actually gets to stay. For a middle eastern monarch with a huge entourage, this is a difficult point to get across. But the point about Buckingham Palace bedrooms is key: a state visit is the highest honour that the government has at its disposal for a foreign leader and is formally our head of state hosting the visitor. Heads of state visit London constantly but it’s not a state visit unless the Queen is hosting.