World / Politics

An exasperated British lawmaker just broke one of Parliament's oldest rules

Bloomberg

It was all so calm, so British.

But when a Labour lawmaker picked up the mace in the House of Commons on Monday evening to protest Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to put off a Parliamentary defeat for her Brexit deal, he was making a statement with revolutionary echoes in more than 300 years of British history.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle, wearing tan trousers and a blue jacket, walked purposefully down the central aisle of the House of Commons and picked up a 1.5-meter-long (5-foot-long) piece of priceless silver jewelry. He held it up before carrying it toward the door, where it was seized back from him by two women in black frock coats.

Amidst the chaos of May’s attempts to get her Brexit deal past ever more unhappy lawmakers, the event Monday evening — while a demonstration of the arcane rituals of the U.K. Parliament — had at its heart a statement about the body’s authority.

The mace — which dates from the reign of Charles II in the seventeenth century — is a symbol both of the royal authority by which Parliament meets and the order of the speaker. It is a sign of Parliament’s power and no one is supposed to touch it.

Russell-Moyle, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party was thrown out for the rest of the day after he ignored Speaker John Bercow’s half-hearted cries to “put it back, put it back now.”

He was unrepentant: “Thankfully they haven’t locked me in the Tower of London but if they had I’d expect May to be in the cell next to me for her treatment of Parliament today,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’m allowed back tomorrow after my symbolic protest against this government, wish May wasn’t allowed back.”

There’s precedent for picking it up. Michael Heseltine did in 1976 when he was infuriated that the Labour government had got a vote through and he was accusing them of cheating.

And luckily for Russell-Moyle, another occasion it was picked up was by John McDonnell, now the second in command in the Labour Party, who was protesting against the planned expansion of Heathrow Airport — by his own side.

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