After a torrid few days in which MPs have fiercely debated how to break the Brexit deadlock, the House of Commons is literally falling apart.
Proceedings ended early on Thursday after torrents of water began to pour through the ceiling.
As the leak began to disturb a debate on loan charges below, Labour MP Justin Madders started rushing through his speech, joking he had to finish “before we get the paddles out” as MPs looked nervously up at the Victorian rafters.
“I think there is probably some kind of symbol about how many people view how broken our Parliament is,” the Labour MP added. “I hope I can complete my speech before rain stops play.”
Deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle was forced to take the decision about the afternoon’s proceedings at 2.48pm as water gushed onto the press gallery – the area above the main chamber where journalists usually sit.
Tory Brexiteer Sir Bill Cash was the first to raise the alarm, asking “what an earth is going on” and joking that the noise of dripping was “hot air escaping” the chamber.
The cause of the leak is not yet known, but it has been reported to parliament’s authorities. The House of Commons Twitter account confirmed, mercifully, that the leak did not contain sewage.
Several MPs were told off by Hoyle for taking pictures – which is banned in the chamber. Some have since tweeted about the deluge.
A House of Commons spokesman said: “We are aware of a water leak on the estate and we’re working urgently to resolve it.”
MPs voted in 2018 to leave the parliamentary estate so a planned multi-billion pound modernisation programme could take place.
But the move, part of a proposed £5.6bn modernisation, will not take effect until 2025 at the earliest.
The building, which was largely rebuilt after a major fire in 1834, is the workplace of thousands of people but is thought to have many safety hazards.
As well as the antiquated sewage and electrical systems, some walls are believed to be riddled with asbestos.
It’s estimated that 60 small fires have started on the estate over the past 10 years, and 24 fire inspectors patrol the grounds on rotation.
A review by accountants Deloitte in 2014, however, estimated that the cost of repairs with a full decant would cost between £3.5bn and £3.9bn.
Draft legislation paving the way for the restoration works has not yet been brought forward, but Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said in October it was still the plan for the site to be largely vacated by the mid-2020s.
After the Commons sitting was abandoned on Thursday, Conservative former minister Sir Peter Bottomley, said: “We will obviously need a leak inquiry.
“It demonstrates we must have restoration and renewal. But we are very grateful to the maintenance staff who keep this place going.”
Nikki da Costa, former director of legislative affairs, has even suggested that the decision could have ramifications for Brexit, with the next set of ‘indicative votes’ potentially delayed.