As a symbol of the woes of Britain's Brexit-era democracy, it could hardly be bettered. Lawmakers had to be sent home in mid-debate last week when water from a burst pipe began gushing into the House of Commons chamber.
The image perfectly illustrates Parliament's problem as it tries to solve the puzzle that is Brexit. On the outside, the U.K. institution is resplendent, a world-famous symbol of democracy sitting ma- jestically on the River Thames. On the inside, it's decrepit and increasingly unfit for use.
The hidden flaws in Britain's political system have been laid bare, and televised worldwide since voters chose, almost three years ago, to leave the European Union.
Decision-making has ground to a standstill, even as business leaders and residents alike cry out for certainty. Many Britons feel a mix of frustration, fascination and shame at the ongoing political chaos. So do politicians on both sides of the Brexit divide.
"I am ashamed to be a member of this Parliament," said pro-EU Liberal Democrat lawmaker Norman Lamb after lawmakers once again failed to find a way forward on Brexit.
Bill Cash, a pro-Brexit Conservative, said this week that Britain had been "humiliated" by failing to leave the EU on time.
The last few months in Parliament, as lawmakers repeatedly tried and failed to agree on a roadmap for Britain's departure, have produced close votes, late nights and high drama. It's a political soap opera that has sent the viewership of Parliament's live-streaming website soaring and made an international celebrity of House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, with his bellowing cries of "Order" and "The ayes have it!"
However, all the sound and fury signi- fies, not much. Britain is no further out the EU door or clearer about its post-Brexit direction than it was at the start of the year. A divorce agreement struck between Prime Minister Theresa May's government and EU late in 2018 lays out the terms of an orderly U.K. departure and promising close future ties. Since January, Parliament has rejected it three times. Pro-Brexit lawmakers won't vote for it because they favor a more definitive break with the bloc. Pro-EU politicians reject it because they think it's a poor substitute for EU membership.
Parliament has also voted on other options including leaving without a deal and holding a new referendum on Brit- ain's EU membership, and twice lawmakers have rejected them all.
May has twice gone to the EU ask- ing for more time, and, despite the bloc's increasing exasperation at Britain, it has twice agreed, delaying Brexit Day first from March 29 to April 12 and then again until Oct. 31.
Britain's political system has proven itself ill-equipped to implement the demand.
Pro-EU backbench lawmakers have gone to war with the government, seizing control of the parliamentary timetable to hold debates and votes on Brexit. Calls for May's resignation are growing louder from all sides of parliament.
Brexiteers in the Conservative Party are still plotting to remove May and re- place her with a leader who will deliver Brexit. Remainers are still hoping to secure a new referendum on Brexit that could deliver a mandate for Britain to stay in the bloc. Labor craves a national election, despite the risk that voters could decide to punish all politicians amid exasperation over the Brexit debacle.