Rishi Sunak – 2024 First Speech as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons

The speech made by Rishi Sunak, the Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 9 July 2024.

Mr Speaker-Elect, I am pleased to join the Prime Minister in welcoming you back to the Speaker’s Chair, and may I also praise the wonderful speech from the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Cat Smith)?

I start by congratulating the Prime Minister on his election victory; as he takes on his formidable task, he and his family deserve the good wishes of all of us in this House. In our politics, we can argue vigorously, as the Prime Minister and I did over the past six weeks, but still respect each other, and whatever disputes we may have in this Parliament, I know that everyone in this House will not lose sight of the fact that we are all motivated by our desire to serve our constituents and our country, and to advance the principles that we honourably believe in.

I welcome to their places every Member, new and old, and congratulate them on their results; to be sent to this place by one’s constituents is the greatest honour, privilege and responsibility. I know that every one of us will try to repay the trust placed in us, and I look forward to continuing to represent the interests of my rural north Yorkshire constituents. One of the great aspects of our system is that no matter how high you rise, you still have that constituency, which keeps you grounded, and my advice to all Members is to appreciate the role that you have, every day that you have it.

For those of us in my party, let me begin with a message to those who are no longer sitting behind me: I am sorry. We have lost too many diligent, community-spirited representatives whose wisdom and expertise will be missed in the debates and discussions ahead. It is important that after 14 years in government, the Conservative party rebuilds, so we will now take up the crucial role of His Majesty’s official Opposition professionally, effectively and humbly. Restoring trust begins with remembering that being here is an opportunity to do what those we serve expect from us. In our case, that means holding the new Government to account.

May I congratulate the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh)? He has given 41 years of remarkable, dedicated service to this House and his constituency. I know full well how ferociously my right hon. Friend fights for the interests of his constituents, and I applaud him for that. He is also testament to the benefits of an early morning dip in the Serpentine. Members may be interested to note that the Bottomleys have had a big influence on my right hon. Friend’s career: in 1974, my right hon. Friend ran against Arthur Bottomley in Middlesbrough in his first effort to enter this place. Today, he takes over from Sir Peter, who will be missed. May I also congratulate the new Mother of the House, the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)? We have our differences on policy, but no one can deny the right hon. Lady’s important role in this House, and the inspiration she has provided for so many young women of colour. The right hon. Lady is truly in every sense of the word a trailblazer.

May I join you, Mr Speaker-Elect, in thanking House staff for their hard work in welcoming our new colleagues to this House and their service over the coming Parliament? Finally, may I congratulate you, Mr Speaker-Elect? When you first ascended to the Speaker’s Chair, you did so with a healthy majority, and that was testament to your wide appeal and the confidence that this House places in you and your judgments.

The last Conservative Prime Minister to speak from the Opposition Benches, the right hon. John Major, said about the role of the Speaker:

“The job specification is pretty daunting: the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon are only the basic requirements. We demand also impartiality, independence and fairness.”—[Official Report, 7 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 9.]

Mr Speaker-Elect, you have shown over the past four and a half years how to protect that careful balance. The past few years in this House have been at times difficult, and you, Sir, have always brought this House together. That was clear when we lost our colleague Sir David Amess. I know your guidance and support for Members then was greatly appreciated.

It is a privilege to be in this House. Our democracy is powerful and, as we have witnessed, it can be definitive, but I know that this House will, true to its best traditions, hold the Executive to account, and that Mr Speaker-Elect will facilitate that. In conclusion, I have no doubt that we will face difficult days together in this place, but I also know that I speak for the whole House when I say that we will all welcome your leadership and guidance in the months and years ahead.