Order! Order! Commons Speaker lifts the lid on Brexit at the University of Birmingham
The man at the centre of this week’s historic and highly-charged Brexit ruling hot-footed it to the University of Birmingham to urge students to play a more active role in politics.
With just eight days to go before the UK is due to leave the European Union, the Speaker of the House of Commons told the 200-strong gathering that public engagement is higher than ever.
During a lecture entitled “An Audience with the Rt. Hon John Bercow”, the Speaker said arguments over Brexit had renewed interest in parliamentary processes, their worth and the role of MPs.
And he urged anyone interested in a career in politics to get the best education they can, pursue a career, join a political party or pressure group - before even considering standing for Parliament.
“Wherever you go, whether it be down the pub, at the dinner table, standing at the school gate or in conversation with colleagues by the water cooler, there is no doubt people are talking about Brexit, politics and Parliament,” he told students from the School of Government and Society.
“My office has noticed a sharp increase in correspondence because people are suddenly more interested in Parliament as a result of the Brexit debates the closer we get to the deadline for leaving the EU.
“Whichever side of the argument you are on, this can only be a good thing that people are expressing their opinions and want to be part of the debate – and I urge you – students of the University of Birmingham – to join the conversation.”
The Speaker also addressed students who are studying the Parliamentary Studies Module, which is being delivered by 24 universities across the UK – including Birmingham – and is taught by university lecturers and clerks from the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
Since his election as Speaker in 2009, Mr Bercow has sought to champion the rights of backbenchers, and granted an unprecedented 570+ Urgent Questions from MPs – more than any other Speaker – to bring ministers to account on the pressing issues of the day.
His attempts to modernise Parliament include the removal of a pistol shooting gallery and the creation of a workplace nursery for the use of MPs and staff.
He is a passionate supporter of LGBT rights – and has spearheaded efforts to make Parliament more diverse and representative of the nation, with the appointment of the first Sergeant at Arms, Commons chaplain and senior lawyer from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds (BAME).
He was one of the founders of the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme, giving young people a chance to shadow and work for MPs - and spearheaded the opening of a Parliamentary Education Centre, which is set to attract one million school children in 10 years.
He was also the first Speaker to allow the UK Youth Parliament to debate in the House of Commons chamber - an annual event he also chairs.
But after 9 and a half years in top office, Mr Bercow says he is most proud of his outreach work – visiting hundreds of schools, universities and community groups across the UK – to broaden the appeal of Parliament.
“One of the best bits about this job, as an ambassador for Parliament, is talking to young people – our future MPs and lawmakers – about how it works and what we do,” he said.
Professor Mark Webber, Head of the School of Government and Society at the University of Birmingham said: “Amidst all the political turbulence thrown up by Brexit, one thing has emerged crystal clear – the heightened significance of Parliament as the fulcrum of national political debate. At the centre of Parliament’s renaissance stands the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is was a real pleasure to welcome John Bercow to the University of Birmingham, to hear his views on contemporary British politics, and to note his encouraging words to our students.”
For more information please contact: Dominic Benson, Deputy Director of Communications, University of Birmingham, on +44 (0)121 414 5134. Alternatively, contact the Press Office out of hours on +44 (0)7789 921165.
Notes for editors:
About the University of Birmingham
- The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
- The School of Government and Society is one of the leading UK and international centres for politics, international relations, international development, and European studies. The School brings together academic staff, research staff and doctoral students across a number of areas of study within the Social Sciences.
About John Bercow
- John Bercow was elected Member of Parliament for Buckingham in May 1997 as a Conservative, serving on the front benches as spokesman for Education & Employment and Home Affairs.
- He was appointed Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 2001 then Shadow Minister for Work & Pensions in 2002 and from 2003 to 2004 Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.
- Since his election as Speaker in 2009, he has embarked on an extensive outreach programme, travelling across the country to visit schools, universities and community groups to talk about his role and that of Parliament. He has sought to champion the rights of backbenchers, and has ensured parliamentary business is dealt with in a timely manner to ensure as many MPs can contribute as possible.