Britain’s parliamentary speaker Lindsay Hoyle warned Tuesday that “relentless abuse” on social media targeting female lawmakers was damaging the democratic process and driving women out of politics.
Hoyle said the reason female MPs had quit parliament was not due “to the long hours, time apart from their families, or the need to seek a better work/life balance”.
Instead, it was rather “because of the relentless abuse and threats they received, largely through social media”, said the speaker of the lower House of Commons.
Hoyle made the remarks on a historic visit to Cyprus where he met his counterpart Annita Demetriou, the first woman to be elected speaker of the House of Representatives.
“I hope her election — and her place in history –- will encourage more women to consider becoming parliamentarians,” Hoyle told the Cypriot parliament.
Hoyle recalled how two serving British lawmakers had been killed in recent years; Labour MP Jo Cox who was stabbed and shot by a right-wing extremist in 2016, and Conservative MP David Amess, stabbed to death while meeting constituents in October.
“We must do all we can to stop the hate-speech that can be the catalyst to awful events such as these,” said Hoyle, a former Labour MP.
Just over a third of British MPs are women.
“In the 2019 general election in the UK, 220 women were elected -– the highest ever proportion of female MPs –- but out of an elected body of 650 MPs, that is still not enough,” Hoyle said.
– ‘Unwavering support’ –
Hoyle said his goal was “to make debate both inside and outside the chamber more respectful and tolerant, to set an example to the wider world.”
Earlier this month Hoyle warned MPs that “words have consequences”, and told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that his claims against opposition leader Keir Starmer were “inappropriate” and could “inflame opinions”.
Although a sometimes fractious relationship, European Union member Nicosia and London have looked to upgrade relations post-Brexit.
“We are good and valued friends,” Hoyle said, on the first official trip of a serving UK parliamentary speaker.
British tourists are the main source of visitors for the island’s key tourism industry, while the UK maintains two strategic military bases on Cyprus.
“Our close people-to-people links are underlined by the fact that 300,000 Cypriots live in the United Kingdom, and 50,000 or more Brits have made Cyprus their home,” said Hoyle.
The former colonial ruler is also a guarantor for the island’s sovereignty, as agreed as part of Cyprus’ 1960 independence.
The speaker said the UK maintains “unwavering support” for reunifying the divided island in line with the UN Security Council’s parameters.
Peace talks to reunify the island since a 1974 Turkish invasion split it in two have remained deadlocked since 2017.