How bad have things gotten in British politics these days? For an answer, look no further than the past 24 hours, when the UK Parliament lost its goddamn mind in front of the world.
Parliament has been in perpetual crisis mode for what feels like generations thanks to the paroxysms of Brexit, but the arrival of Boris Johnson as prime minister turned everything up to 11.
On Monday, Johnson failed for the second time in a row to pass a bill which would have led to a general election. He also failed, yet again, to confirm that he would obey a law, passed by opposition MPs over his howling objections, that would force him to seek an extension to the current Brexit deadline of October 31 if he hasn’t reached a deal with the European Union by then. All of this took place during scenes of intense anger on all sides.
What followed, however, was far more uproarious. After the election bill failed, Johnson’s government moved to do what it promised to do some weeks ago, and suspended Parliament for over a month. This process, known as “prorogation,” comes with a lot of arcane (some would say “stupid”) ceremony involving the doffing of hats and Norman French. It also usually comes with some amount of decorum. Not this time.
Opposition MPs are furious that Johnson is so obviously attempting to stifle Parliament during such a historic crisis, and oh my god did they make it known.
Part of prorogation involves a person called “Black Rod,” who represents the House of Lords, coming into the House of Commons chamber to ask the Speaker of the House of Commons to come to the Lords and get the ceremony going. (If none of that made sense to you, don’t worry, it’s not really important.) Normally, this all happens with relative quiet. But we are far removed from normality right now.
The speaker, John Bercow, is a hate figure for Brexiteers and a hero to Remainers thanks to his highly controversial commitment to stymieing the government’s attempts to railroad Brexit through Parliament. He is also an objectively egomaniacal man who loves the sound of his own voice. He had also, as it happens, just announced his impending resignation earlier on Monday, and so cared even less about making Tories angry. So, when Black Rod turned up, Bercow decided he would make a speech about how much he disliked the suspension of Parliament.
Black Rod was less than amused.
Then it got even crazier. Opposition MPs started shouting, and held up signs saying “SILENCED.” They even tried to block Bercow from leaving his chair. (He left, grudgingly.) Of course, being Britain, it all had apparent roots in stuff from hundreds of years ago.
There was also singing.
Eventually, it ended. Parliament is now suspended till October 14. The crisis goes on. It’s wild to watch something just implode before your eyes, isn’t it?