As the government formally declared it would not continue with the debate on the withdrawal agreement, Russell-Moyle marched forward to grab the mace in protest, brandishing it in the center of the chamber to widespread condemnation from the Conservative benches — MPs shouted "shameful", "put it back" and "expel him" as he waved the five-foot silver object in the air.
However, once aloft the MP appeared unsure of what to do next, so returned the mace — which represents the Queen's authority in parliament, and without which parliament cannot meet or pass laws — to Commons officials, after Speaker John Bercow demanded him to. He was then suspended for the rest of the sitting, but refused until Bercow said he'd be escorted otherwise.
Britain has fallen pic.twitter.com/WFPV6DwFbc— Julia Macfarlane (@juliamacfarlane) December 10, 2018
"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. 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 told journalists afterwards.
The mace is carried every day into the Commons by the serjeant-at-arms, who places it on the table of the house — although the tradition dates back to the 13th century, the current mace is thought to date back to the 17th century, and may have been made for Charles II.
The official televised feed of parliamentary proceedings, on BBC Parliament, did not show the incident due to rules forbidding broadcast of protest actions by Commons attendees — however, the footage was tweeted by a BBC journalist and duly went viral, which parliamentary authorities may take issue with.
— Lloyd Russell-Moyle (@lloyd_rm) December 10, 2018
Several MPs have grabbed the mace previously, most recently now-shadow chancellor John McDonnell in 2009, in protest of the then-Labour government allowing a third runway at Heathrow airport — he was suspended from the Commons for five days as a result.
Most notoriously though, in 1976 then-shadow industry secretary Michael Heseltine menacingly waved the mace at Labour MPs after the Conservative opposition lost by one vote on a bill, and governing lawmakers began singing socialist standard ‘The Red Flag'. The sitting was suspended and Heseltine was forced to apologise the next day.