Nearly two million signed the anti-Trump petition. But will it work?

Apparently not.


Since the 45th president of the United States came into power, there has been a huge outcry from the people of the UK to prevent Donald Trump from making an official state visit, especially after his highly controversial ‘Muslim ban’. This has not only taken the form of anti-Trump protests on the streets of many British cities, but also country-wide online petitions.

Over 1.8 million people signed a petition to ban President Trump from an official state visit to Britain, but where did that get us? I was wondering if all these petitions actually work.

Parliament will have a debate on this petition on the 20th of February, as well as look into the counter-petition requesting that Trump should, in fact, be allowed to have a state visit, which has gained over 300,000 signatures.

For any petition to be considered for debate in parliament, it needs to reach at least 100,000 signatures. Petitions are a means of getting a mass opinion across through the signing of your name to a cause. These are signed in the hope of making a difference in major events, such as war, but also whether or not Trump may come to the UK.

Does this mean that parliament will actually take the petitions into consideration and will it actually determine the outcome? When looking at other petitions and how successful they were even after being debated, past results tend to suggest not.

There have been a number of other occasions where petitions have been successful enough to be debated in parliament. However, most of the time the petitions are deemed ‘unsuccessful’ and are rejected in parliament, resulting in the government going ahead with its original plans or not addressing the issue further. A few examples of this include:

– The petition for a second EU referendum, gaining 4.15 million signatures which was debated and rejected.

– Saying no to air strikes against IS after the Paris attacks in 2015 which was debated and rejected.

– Arguing for no British air strikes on Syria which was debated and rejected.

– Introduce a tax on sugary drinks which was debated and rejected.

So are we just wasting our breath? I spoke to some people who sign protests on a regular basis about what they had to say about the Trump Petition, whether they thought petitions and protests are a waste of time, and how why they sign petitions.

International Relations student, 2nd year, Sussex University:

“It’s stupid. Just because people in this country don’t like him it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be allowed to visit. He’s the head of state of the most powerful country and our closest ally, treat him like any other leader.

“We host heads of state who have done far worse than Trump, for example, we host Arab leaders who turn a blind eye to terrorism funding from people in their own country, as well as leaders who accept the execution of homosexuals and those who accept the subjugation of women as second class citizens. A few years ago we even hosted the Chinese president, a man who comes from a country where it is state policy to use a secret police as well as torture.

“The only reason people don’t kick up a fuss about not stopping these leaders from visiting is because they either don’t know or don’t care.

“Furthermore, a petition won’t deter him from being president in the slightest. It’s ignorant to think it’ll have an effect considering the majority of people in his own country dislike him.

“I sign petitions because I feel strongly about a subject, but only do so if I feel it would actually achieve something. If it won’t achieve anything, I don’t bother. I think people sign them because they want their opinion to be heard.

“It’s frustrating but at the end of the day, it’s a democratic process. What else can you do?”

Ashley Patchell, Geography student, UEA:

“Petitions aren’t at all a waste of time, for the same reason protests and marches aren’t a waste of time. People are coming together to raise awareness of an issue and more often than not it catches the attention of the government and media outlets, just look at women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom, that’s worked extremely effectively!

“If we don’t make ourselves heard and don’t strive for what we think is right then we are a neutral and are giving in to our oppressors.

“I sign petitions so that I can be happy that I at least tried to do something and make a change. It is good to be an active person and fight for what you believe is right.”

 

One of the most prominent and famous examples of how little the effect of petitions and protests has on decision making at a governmental level would be the Iraq war protests, where over a million people took to the streets to argue against going to war in Iraq. This was also unsuccessful and Britain went to war anyway.

A comparison can be drawn, as over 1.8 million people have already declared their opposition to Trump being allowed an official state visit in the UK. Although there have been some street protests such as those outside Westminster in London and in various other cities across the UK, it seems like there is little hope for a favourable result.

There are always people who say petitions are the laziest way of engaging in politics, also known as ‘slacktivism’. However, it is easy to contribute, seems to be efficient, and can be quickly spread online – especially with the increasing role that social media has in political activity.

A full list of debated topics and their outcomes in the UK can be found here.