Anna Soubry: “The sensible moderate Tories have got to take back control”

The defiant Tory rebel dashed the government’s Brexit hopes with victory in this week's vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill vote and has vowed to keep raging against hard Brexiteers

It’s been quite a year in politics. Article 50 was finally triggered, the general election that definitely wasn’t happening happened, the Irish border became more of an issue than it had been in decades, and the government’s ability to strike a Brexit deal was farcically scuppered by their ‘confidence and supply’ pals the DUP. We turned to Anna Soubry, the Marmite Tory backbencher with a reputation for straight talking, for insight. Soubry really, really hates Brexit and was named among 15 ‘mutineers’ on a recent Daily Telegraph front page. Following the story, she says her office received 13 death threats against her and police were called in to investigate. Two of the communications have since been passed to prosecutors. But it hasn’t quietened her down.

How did we get here?

It’s become acceptable not to be tolerant. We were getting towards a much more tolerant way of doing politics when the two main parties were skating around the middle ground. There was a consensus that was forming and the people on the extremes of politics didn’t like that. You’d be on the doorstep and people would say, oh you’re all the same. And then we had the referendum and Remain lost. The people who’d been banging on about Europe, and they’re mainly Conservatives, this issue had completely consumed their lives for decades. And some of their views were quite extreme and they weren’t particularly rational. And suddenly, those people who had been on the edge of politics were in the mainstream.

Anna Soubry feature

So that’s the right, what about the left?

Exactly the same thing happened in the Labour Party. The hard left were on the fringes but then with the election of Corbyn because people could pay three quid and join the Labour Party, these people were suddenly the mainstream. So we’ve suddenly found ourselves with the two extremes actually being the dominant factors and the loudest voices.

But why have people bought into it?

Oh no no, they haven’t. The overwhelming majority of people don’t like the fact that Labour women have been subjected to misogynistic abuse from the hard left any more than the public think it’s right for a Member of Parliament to have death threats issued against them because they’ve got concerns over a bill that touches on Brexit. The majority of people don’t like that there’s this atmosphere of intolerance and so people are not standing up and speaking out as they should be. The British people will get there and in the end their sane voices will prevail.

That sounds promising…

I’m going to be hopeful. But then you’ve got newspapers like the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the Daily Express. From the very outset it was bullying and it was saying, how dare you. Nobody is allowed to deviate from their view and if you’re a judge doing your job you’ll be called an enemy of the people. If you’re a Member of Parliament doing your job you’ll be called a collaborator, a saboteur, a traitor, a mutineer.

You said last year that because you say what you think you’re not a proper politician. That’s a bit depressing for the rest of us

We live in a world now of 24-hour media. You only have to look at the news channels to see they’re desperate for an update, you know… BREAKING NEWS. Often the only way they can fill the time is through nonsenses. Everything you say can be seized on, picked on, taken out of context, stuffed into a tweet, and suddenly you have a rocket going off which is almost impossible to stop. I used to work in telly so I remember the days when you would do an interview and you’d be looking for maybe a minute. Now they’re looking for 15 seconds, or sometimes just a two-second soundbite

So that’s inhibiting for politicians?

Undoubtedly. But you can see the problem. You have to sum up why is Brexit a bad idea in 15 seconds.

So – in more than 15 seconds if you like, – what was your reaction when you heard about the snap election?

Excuse me while we piss in our boots. But no, seriously, it was complete and total disbelief. A group of friends, when we knew that the podium was being set up, had said, you know for sure the one thing it’s not going to be is a general election!

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But there were more women returned to Westminster than ever before. Isn’t that some comfort?

Yeah, that’s really good news. And I think we’re seeing more people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds as well. That’s all great news.

Does parliament feel different?

Well I’ve only been there since 2010 and there was a big rise in the number of women in the Tory benches then. But at the moment you do begin to wonder why you’d want to be a Member of Parliament unless your views were coming from those extremes of politics because you’d have to believe something almost with a fanaticism to be able to put up with all the nonsenses that you have to endure nowadays to be a politician.

Why are you not put off?

I often wonder! I genuinely enjoy working for my constituents and sorting out constituency cases. It’s not just that it’s an honour, but when you get results it’s wonderful. Making a difference to people’s lives is something you never put it on a leaflet. Some do the talk and others just get on and fix it, which is kind of the way that I operate. Everybody involved in politics is under a duty to ensure that we pass on a world to our children that is better than the world we inherited from our parents and at the moment I don’t think I would be passing on a better Britain to my children if we have the sort of Brexit that I fear we are going to have. I’m not prepared to sit back and let that happen.

To be fair, your party kind of has quite a big hand in that…

The sensible moderate Conservatives have got to take back control. And we’ve got to see off these hard Brexiteers. I think all parties have to stand up for what they believe in. And we’ve just had a general election. I know I’ve got a mandate because I made it very clear what I would fight for. I made it very clear I’d fight for the customs union, single market and the positive benefits of immigration.

Who are the ones to watch at Westminster in 2018? Anyone you’d poach?

If I could poach from another party there’s a whole load… no, I’m not going to go down that route because it’ll get them into trouble. There’s some good people in the new intakes of 2017 and 2015. Some of the new Scottish Tories are my type of Tories.

How are things going with the ones who aren’t your type of Tories?

What happens in the chamber stays in the chamber so as soon as you’re outside it’s perfectly civilised. I think the real story is why are the hard Brexiteers getting so agitated. What is their problem? We’re leaving the EU so why are they so aggressive? What’s rattling their cage?

Anna Soubry
Anna Soubry was one of 11 Tory rebels who dealt a blow to the government's EU Withdrawal Bill by securing a parliament say on Brexit terms

What’s your instinct?

It’s because the British people are appreciating now the Brexit reality. They’re not going to get their £350m a week for the NHS which they were promised. It isn’t easy, as they were told it would be. The one thing that these hard Brexiteers don’t want is time. Because they’re terrified that as the Brexit reality dawns British people will go, er, this is not what I voted for. Can we not do it please? And they’re terrified that as people realise the reality of Brexit they might actually change their minds. And they never voted for their hard Brexit anyway. Never voted for it.

So all things considered, how’s your year been?

Hmmm. Four out of 10. Not a great year.

And if you got a Christmas wish, would you end Brexit or homelessness?

Oh that’s not fair. I’m more likely to stop homelessness than Brexit. But if we have a full-fat Brexit then it’ll make homelessness worse.

Anna Soubry is speaking exclusively in this week’s Big Issue, available now, as we also head to a galaxy far, far away in a world-shattering interview with Star Wars legend Mark Hamill.

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