The House of Commons, tumultuous epicenter of the Brexit crisis

At Westminster Palace, the majority and opposition MPs engage in close and fiery exchanges on UK exit conditions from the EU. A look back at the story of Churchill's "Fortress of British Liberty" and its amazing rituals.

Time to Reading 5 min.

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"We shape our buildings, then our buildings shape us," noted Winston Churchill in 1943, after the destruction of the House of Commons by the German bombs. He was then in favor of the identical reconstruction, in a rectangular and not hemicycle-shaped, of the central mythical place of British parliamentary democracy.

Three quarters of a century later, all those who follow the captivating serial Brexit measure the consequences of this politico-architectural choice: a fiery confrontation between a government and an opposition separated by only a few meters, a feverish atmosphere in a overcrowded room where the green leather benches are, by design, insufficient to accommodate the 650 deputies. It's about giving, already foresaw the Old Lion Downing Street, "An impression of affluence and urgency".

Unwritten rules

Churchill's bias stems from his commitment to the political stability that is supposed to ensure a bipartisan system and its corollary, the election of deputies by one-round suffrage where the candidate with the largest number of votes is elected. Formations other than Tories and Labor – which occupy the opposite flanks of the Commons – have almost no chance of gaining power.

This impressive institutional building and its unwritten rules have been forged over the centuries by a set of laws, rules of jurisprudence and political traditions since the Great Charter of 1215 which forbids the King to levy taxes without the consent of Parliament .

These principles, whose defense of the prerogatives of the deputies vis-a-vis the executive form the guiding thread, permeate not only the architecture of the places – which holds of the church, the club of gentlemen and the Gothic universe to the Harry Potter – but also the procedures and amazing liturgies that punctuate life.

When the Queen's messenger comes to the Commons, the door is slammed in her face. He must strike three times sound with the help of an ebony stick

Thus, the annual ceremonial which presides at the opening by the queen of a new parliamentary session is intended to perpetuate the distrust towards the sovereign, in reference to the irruption of King Charles Ist in the House of Commons in 1642 to arrest five rebel deputies. This violation of parliamentary sovereignty marks the outbreak of the English Civil War that culminated in the King's execution in 1649.


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