Bernard has served as a Member of Parliament since 1992, having been elected as the Member of Parliament for North Colchester in 1992, North Essex in 1997, 2001 and 2005, and Harwich and North Essex in 2010, 2015 and 2017.
While an MP, Bernard served for five years in the Shadow Cabinet. He served as Shadow Minister for Transport under William Hague from 1998-2001, and then as Shadow Defence Secretary under Iain Duncan Smith from 2001-2003.
“These were tough times in opposition. On Transport, we ran successful campaigns – against Standstill Britain and excessive fuel taxes – to expose Labour’s utter failure on transport. In Defence, I campaigned against armed forces overstretch and found myself fighting to get the equipment and funding they need.”
When Michael Howard appointed Bernard as Shadow Secretary of State for the Regions (2003-5), he campaigned against John Prescott’s plans for Regional Assemblies and masterminded the North East Says No campaign, which successfully defeated the government in the North East Referendum in 2004.
“When Labour called three referendums for Regional Assemblies for the North of England, most people thought they would win at least one or two. We derailed two referendums before they started, because of the terrible scandal about postal voting. The polls forecast a two-to-one victory for the ‘Yes’ campaign in the North East, but the team at North East Says No ran a brilliant campaign. The government lost four-to-one against. It spelled the end of the road for elected regional assemblies – and the beginning of the end for Prescott.”
After the 2005 election, following a spell as Shadow Energy Minister, David Cameron appointed Bernard as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party with responsibility for Candidates. He was charged with the task of promoting a fairer proportion of women and black and ethnic minority candidates.
After a year’s work, over 30% of candidates in winnable seats were women, along with a number of black and ethnic minority candidates.
“This was a hell of a challenge – but there was no way to force Constituencies to select a woman or a black candidate. Everything we achieved was by consent and persuasion. Some wanted all women shortlists and racial quotas – I was never going to have that. No candidate has been chosen without open and fair competition.”
After this, from 2006-2010, Bernard served on the Defence Select Committee.
In 2010, Bernard was appointed as Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), the remit of which was to consider matters relating to the quality and standards of administration within the Civil Service. In 2015, the Committee acquired constitutional affairs, in addition to the old PASC remit, and became the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC). As Chair, Bernard has overseen a range of high profile and important inquiries. These have looked at topics including: civil service reform; English Votes for English Laws; the future of the Union; and lessons learned from the EU referendum.
PACAC also has a remit to examine reports of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. As part of this, PACAC has scrutinised reports on learning from mistakes in the NHS, the quality of NHS complaints investigations, and unsafe discharge from hospital. Some of this work has built on the new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, which the government established in response to a PASC report on Investigating Clinical Incidents in the NHS.
Following the 2016 EU referendum, Bernard became the Chair of the Steering Committee of the European Research Group, a group of Eurosceptic members from both Houses of Parliament with the aim of influencing government policy on the European Union. The Steering Committee is responsible for setting the overall direction of the ERG, and is comprised mainly of former Cabinet Ministers.
Prior to his election to the House of Commons in 1992, Bernard worked in industry and commerce: in sales and marketing with Ford Motor Company Ltd from 1983-1986, and for venture capital provider 3i PLC from 1986-1988, before working as manager of Legal and General Ventures Ltd from 1989-1992.
Bernard believes that "Some experience in the real world of business has been hugely important in politics".
Bernard’s political interests include foreign affairs and defence, terrorism and security, trade, small businesses, the UK’s relationship with the EU and the constitution.
Bernard's hobbies include sailing, music, DIY, fishing and open water swimming.