What is Parliament’s ceremonial mace, why did an MP grab it and what’s all the fuss about?

Shouts of “Expel him!” echoed through the chamber as a Labour MP grabbed the ornamental staff in protest at the postponement of the vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal

Ceremonial mace (Getty)

There was chaos in the Commons on Monday as Prime Minister Theresa May decided to call off the vote on her Brexit deal which, after months of bitter negotiations with the European Union, was scheduled for Tuesday 11th May.

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Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle grabbed the ceremonial mace in protest at the postponement of the vote and was hence ejected from the House. But what exactly is the mace, why did he do it and what’s all the fuss about?

What is the ceremonial mace and what does it symbolise?

The ceremonial mace is a five-foot-long, silver gilt ornamental staff that represents the royal authority of Parliament. Without the mace, Parliament cannot meet or pass laws.

The tradition of civic maces goes back to the 13th century, but the Commons mace is believed to have originated in the 17th century and to have been made for Charles II.

Every day, the mace – which is decorated with roses, thistles and pearls – is carried into the Commons chamber by the serjeant at arms, who places it on the table of the House.

Ceremonial mace (Getty)
Ceremonial mace (Getty)

What happened with the mace in Parliament on Monday?

Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle seized the ceremonial mace in protest at Theresa May postponing the vote on her EU withdrawal agreement. 

As the decision was formally declared, the Brighton Kemptown MP marched forward to grab the mace and held it up in the centre of the chamber.

The response from the Tory benches was one of pure outrage, with Conservative MPs shouting “Disgrace” and “Expel him” as he raised the mace above his head and paraded it around.

Russell-Moyle’s protest lasted only a matter of seconds, however, as unsure what to do with the mace, the rebel politician simply handed it back to Commons officials as the Speaker, John Bercow, demanded he return it to its proper place.

Bercow then ordered “the honourable gentleman to withdraw immediately from the House” for the remainder of Monday’s sitting.

Russell-Moyle initially refused to go until Bercow said: “No, no. He must leave or be escorted. He should leave.”

John Bercow (Getty)
John Bercow (Getty)

What explanation did Russell-Moyle give for grabbing the mace?

“The symbolic gesture of lifting the mace and removing it is that the will of Parliament to govern is no longer there, has been removed,” the MP told reporters afterwards. “I felt Parliament had effectively given up its sovereign right to govern properly.

“They stopped me before I got out of the chamber and I wasn’t going to struggle with someone wearing a huge sword on their hip.”

He later tweeted: “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.

“I’m allowed back tomorrow after my symbolic protest against this government, wish May wasn’t allowed back.”

Has anyone ever grabbed the mace before?

The current shadow chancellor John McDonnell was the last MP to remove the mace from its rightful place back in 2009, leading to a five-day suspension from the Commons. He had grabbed it in protest at the government’s decision to allow a third runway at Heathrow airport.

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In 1976, the then shadow industry secretary, Michael Heseltine, aggressively waved the mace at the Labour benches after the Tories lost by one vote on a bill. His colleague James Prior had to wrestle it from his hands and the Speaker suspended the sitting. Heseltine had to formally apologise the following day.