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Theresa May says Commons farewell calling on MPs to prioritise ‘public service’

The former prime minister’s husband Sir Philip watched on as Mrs May bowed out after 27 years.

Theresa May

Theresa May has warned that too many people in politics “think it is about them” in a farewell speech which also made light of her difficulties as prime minister.

The MP for Maidenhead advised her Conservative colleagues against enduring her experience of spending 13 years in opposition, urging: “Go out there and fight to make sure a Conservative government is re-elected at the election.”

With her husband Sir Philip watching on from the public gallery, Mrs May also paid tribute to her “best canvasser-in-chief” who was there to “make the beans on toast and pour the whisky” on the difficult days in Downing Street.

Theresa May with her husband Philip outside 10 Downing Street
Theresa May with her husband Sir Philip outside 10 Downing Street (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

In a final message to those who are returned as MPs, Mrs May said: “I ask only that they remember the importance of our democracy, that they can be a voice for the voiceless and that their job here is not to advance themselves but to serve the people who elected them.”

Her remarks came during the valedictory debate in the House of Commons, giving MPs who are stepping down ahead of the July 4 General Election a chance to say their farewells.

Mrs May, who served as prime minister between 2016 and 2019, said it would be a “great wrench” to leave the Commons after 27 years.

She noted that she had first wanted to be a Tory MP from the age of 12, adding that the responsibilities included giving a “voice to the voiceless” and protecting democracy.

Mrs May said: “Democracy has raised living standards in countries, it has led to the betterment of people in so many parts of the world, but sadly democracy today, I fear, is under threat.

“And while it is easy to answer the question ‘what is the greatest threat to democracy’ by saying ‘well, an autocratic state like Russia or China’, actually we should never forget the dangers to democracy from within.”

PA infographic showing Conservative MPs standing down at general election
(PA Graphics)

She argued that MPs needed to do “all that we can to show the value of democracy” as it allowed people to “be the best they can be”.

Mrs May also described being an MP as the “best job in the world” before giving a nod to the difficulties she faced in trying to push ahead with her Brexit legislation, which ultimately led to her exit from No 10.

She joked: “Of course it has its frustrations, it particularly has its frustrations when you’re in government and people don’t vote on your own side for your legislation – three times – but there we are, we get over these things, we carry on, come back, but it is a really important job and the key to it is to represent constituents.”

Mrs May went on: “I worry today that there are too many people in politics who think it is about them, their ambitions, their careers and not about the people they serve, and being a Member of Parliament is a public service, we are there to serve our country and to serve our constituents.

“I’ve enjoyed my time, as I’ve indicated it has had its ups and downs, but I’ve enjoyed my time.

“I can say to all those on these benches, I spent 13 years in opposition, you do not want to do that, go out there and fight to make sure a Conservative government is re-elected at the election.”

Harriet Harman MP speaks in the House of Commons
Harriet Harman was introduced to the House 42 years ago (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)

Ahead of her speech, Mrs May received a hug in the chamber from SNP former Westminster leader Ian Blackford.

Labour’s Harriet Harman, who as the longest-serving female MP is regarded as the Mother of the House, earlier recalled how her late husband Jack Dromey watched on from the public gallery “beaming down his 100% support on me” when she was introduced to the House 42 years ago.

Former MP Mr Dromey died suddenly in his flat in his Birmingham Erdington constituency in 2022.

Ms Harman, MP for Camberwell and Peckham, said: “He’s not here today but my three children are here in the gallery beaming down their 100% support and I’m so grateful for that.”

She also said that only around 3% of her colleagues were women when she took office in 1982.

Ms Harman said: “To those people who look back through rose-tinted glasses and with nostalgia and talk about the ‘good old days’ in the House of Commons, I would say the House of Commons is better now than it was.

“It is more representative and the women who are in this House of Commons now … they also know that it is not that we are doing them a favour letting them be here.

“They are a democratic imperative to make this House of Commons representative. They need to have their voices heard. They will not be silenced and they are an essential part of a modern democracy.”

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