When and why do politicians use emotive rhetoric in parliamentary speeches? Research has shown that emotions matter in political campaigns, but we know less about their effect on legislative behavior. In this paper, we argue that politicians use emotive rhetoric to primarily appeal to voters. We thus expect that politicians are more likely to use emotive rhetoric in parliamentary speeches, the larger the general audience. Our analysis covers nearly one million parliamentary speeches held in the British parliament, the House of Commons, in the period from 2001 until 2019. We use a dictionary-based method to measure emotive rhetoric, combining the Affective Norms for English Words dictionary with word embeddings techniques to create a domain-specific dictionary. Our analysis reveals that the level of emotive rhetoric has increased since 2015 with the start of the Brexit debate. Importantly, we also show that emotive rhetoric is more pronounced in high-profile legislative debates, such as Prime Minister’s Questions Time. These findings suggest that politicians use emotive rhetoric strategically to appeal to a wider audience.