What the Hell Is the 'Lady Usher of the Black Rod'

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Brexit has reached new heights of absurdity with the “prorogation” or temporary suspension of Parliament, which involved the special appearance of the cravat-wearing, gold-stick toting “Lady Usher of the Black Rod.” Truly they are having a normal one over there!

Proroguing Parliament is normal for a new administration, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson is quite clearly using it as a tactic to run out the clock on leaving the EU and force a no-deal Brexit. Hence the vehement opposition to the move, which Johnson requested and the queen granted (because really she’s supposed to grant whatever the PM asks). There’s an entire ceremony for the shutdown, which involves the appearance of the “Black Rod,” Sarah Clarke—the first woman to hold the position in its 669-year history, a number which is not a typo. It’s a ceremonial position in the House of Lords that quite literally involves getting a big door slammed in your face. The Guardian explained the gig when Clarke’s appointment was announced:

Originating from a role created in 1348 by Edward III to guard the door outside meetings of his advisory council, the Order of the Garter, Black Rod is now a senior official in the House of Lords.

The post is most visible at the annual state opening of parliament, when Black Rod is sent from the Lords to the House of Commons to summon MPs to hear the Queen’s speech.

The ceremony involves the door to the Commons being slammed in Black Rod’s face. He – as it has been until now – uses his staff to knock three times on the door and gain admittance.

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The door-slamming is meant as a symbol of the independence of the House of Commons, and it goes back to the strife between Parliament and Charles I, who ultimately lost his power struggle with the body—and consequently lost his head. (Another remnant of less settled days: During the Queen’s speech, an MP from the Commons is “held hostage” at Buckingham Palace—a guaranteed that there won’t be any trouble while the monarch is at Parliament, a bit of ass-covering that also dates back to Charles I. Personally, if I were Prince Charles, I would choose another regnant name, just for better luck.)

Anyway, when Clarke arrived in the Commons to summon the MPs for the prorogation ceremony, many did not go quietly, according to CNN:

The arrival of Black Rod — Sarah Clarke, the first woman to hold the post — was met with a wall of noise from lawmakers opposed to prorogation. A group of opposition MPs then advanced towards the Speaker’s chair and a small scuffle broke out.

MPs crowded around Speaker John Bercow, who had announced his resignation earlier on Monday, holding signs reading “Silenced.”

Bercow then added to the drama with an extraordinary show of dissent, briefly refusing to heed Black Rod’s order to leave the Commons.

There’s video, too:

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American political pundits can spread their calls for civility on a piece of toast and eat it—our congress would be better off if they hollered at each other instead of acting like a sack of snakes.

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