- John Jenkins
Anna Soubry and a “blindfolded Brexit”
Anna Soubry has been the Member of Parliament for Broxtowe since 2010 and has always been a key supporter of remaining in the European Union - one of the first people to speak about the benefits of voting remain. I get the impression that she will also be one of the last remaining people still fighting for it in years to come. She is dedicated to her cause and won’t give up until she gets her way.
Since April, Soubry has been campaigning for a People’s Vote - a public vote on the final Brexit deal. She attended a march this October in London, sharing a stage with Labour, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats. She is willing to accept that this issue defies party lines. The following week, Soubry visited the University of Warwick, for the first time, to speak to the Politics Society. Whilst the members asked questions on a variety of subjects, it was clear that Brexit was the hot topic.
The politician was asked what she thinks about referendums generally. She jokingly responded - “I never want to see a referendum again”. When it was pointed out that the People’s Vote would mean another referendum, Soubry argued that we needed a referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal “then that’s it”.
After the session, I got an opportunity to sit down with Anna Soubry to ask her some questions. I began by asking her about her safety as a high profile MP. It was an issue raised in the session prior to the interview, relating to the disgusting context of the Jo Cox murder during the Brexit campaign in 2016. Soubry said that she doesn't feel unsafe, she just remains “cautious”, keeping “a little eye” over her shoulder.
The MP spends a lot of time talking about the positive reasons for remaining inside the EU, so I asked her about the positive reasons for leaving, which, of course, there are some. At first, Soubry couldn’t find anything positive to say about leaving the EU. But I pressed, so she suggested that that the EU is “very top heavy”, describing that as “frustrating”. She raises an important point - the so called ‘Brussels Bureaucrats’ were a key factor in the Brexit referendum.
On the People’s Vote movement, Soubry insisted that “people are entitled to change their mind”. Quoting Churchill, the politician said, “when the facts change, you’re entitled to change your mind. The facts have changed”. One of her important positions in Parliament was being a Business Minister after the 2015 election until Theresa May’s premiership. She called on the importance of certainty for British business. Referring to Brexit, she suggested “they just don’t have that certainty and they’ve not had it for two and a half years”. Perhaps once the Prime Minister brings a deal back from Brussels, businesses will be able to begin planning ahead. Soubry is clearly worried about the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU, describing the ongoing process as a “blindfolded Brexit” - nobody has any idea what is going on. It certainly seems to be that way from the outside.
My main problem with supporting the People’s Vote is that it seems like a way to undermine the vote two years ago. If the movement is to achieve anything, it must make sure that it’s not campaigning for a re-run of the referendum - Soubry agreed with me: “it won’t be a rerun of the referendum because we’ll know what Brexit looks like, whereas before, it was very ‘airy fairy’”. She then described the remain campaign as “terrible”, drawing on memories of being ignored in Cabinet meetings when she complained about the “negative” nature of the campaign. She even argued with government officials about the importance of immigration as a key factor in the referendum, who wouldn’t let her speak on Radio 2 to discuss immigration figures. Soubry confessed that she expected the public would vote to leave, after hearing from Nottingham residents complaining about immigrants in the last few weeks of the campaign, suggesting that she was surprised the campaign “ever got to 48%”.
If we had voted to remain, Soubry said that “we would be certainly better off and with better prospects”. Councils would be under less pressure and the NHS would be properly funded.
I think she undermines the power of leave supporters - they would be just as dedicated to having a second vote as Soubry is now.
When asked the question on everyone’s mind of who will next be Prime Minister, Soubry suggested that Amber Rudd would be a good leader, but worries that it will be Boris Johnson. She describes him as an “absolute disaster” and “bloody useless”, suggesting that “high office is not for him”.
I get no sense that Soubry wants to be Prime Minister - she’ll always be best criticising from the backbenches of Parliament. She is an impressive character, with real charisma and enthusiasm. If one thing’s for sure, more MPs need to be like Anna Soubry.
IMAGE: Ben Hayday