Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

A very British protest as anger boils over at Theresa May’s Brexit dodge

Opposition Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle picks up the ceremonial mace in the House of Commons, sparking chaos

Speaker John Bercow, centre, demanded that the mace be returned. Reuters
Speaker John Bercow, centre, demanded that the mace be returned. Reuters

It was all so calm, so British.

But when a Labour Member of Parliament picked up the mace in the House of Commons on Monday evening to protest against Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to delay 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 five-foot-long piece of priceless silver jewellery. He held it up before carrying it towards the door, where it was seized back from him by two women in black frock coats.

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Amid the chaos of Mrs May’s attempts to get her Brexit deal past ever-more-unhappy MPs, the event on Monday evening – while a demonstration of the arcane rituals of the UK Parliament – had at its heart a statement about the body’s authority.

The mace – which dates from the reign of King Charles II in the 17th 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.

Mr Russell-Moyle 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 are precedents for picking it up. Michael Heseltine did in 1976 when he was infuriated that the Labour government had pushed through a vote and accused them of cheating.

In 1988, Labour MP Ron Brown picked up the mace and threw it to the ground, causing £1,500 (Dh6,929) of damage to it, during a debate on prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s contentious poll tax.

Another occasion it was picked up was by John McDonnell, now second-in-command in the Labour Party, who was protesting against the planned expansion of Heathrow Airport – by his own side.

Updated: December 11, 2018 03:20 PM

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