By Izzy Ardron
Anna Soubry MP has become best known in recent months for her vocal support for Remain, and opposition to a hard Brexit.
Her journey to becoming one of the most recognisable members of the Conservative backbenches, she tells me, began at university.
Having been involved in Conservative politics as a student, Soubry then left for a career in journalism, before spending sixteen years as a criminal barrister. She first ran for election in 2005 and entered Parliament on her second attempt in 2010.
Her advice to aspiring student politicians is to not “let it consume your life,” and suggests her involvement in student politics meant that she “didn’t enjoy university as much as I would have otherwise done”.
However, Soubry’s other piece of advice to upcoming politicians is to “be true to what you believe in,” a commitment to her beliefs which saw her return to politics and has characterised her career as an MP.
[blockquote author=”” pull=”normal”]Soubry suggests her involvement in student politics meant that she “didn’t enjoy university as much as I would have otherwise done”[/blockquote]
Nowhere has this trait been more apparent than in her stance on leaving the EU, firstly as a prominent Remain campaigner, and now as an advocate of a soft Brexit, despite the position of many in her party.
Soubry, who considers herself “in every respect” a Conservative who supports policies which she says have been “mainstream” in the party for the last “fifty-odd” years, nonetheless fears that the government is getting Brexit “horribly wrong”.
Saying she “accept[s] that we’re leaving the European Union”, Soubry’s priority now is “to get a deal that puts the economy at its heart”.
She argues that “what we mustn’t do is damage our economy,” and believes that “we don’t need to do that if we stay in the single market and the customs union”.
[blockquote author=”” pull=”normal”]”the idea we’re going to get a deal that’s as good as what we’ve got at the moment is for the fairies”[/blockquote]
Soubry describes the ‘No Deal’ option as “jumping off the cliff,” suggesting Prime Minister Theresa May is “wrong” in trying to “appease” what she characterises as the small but vocal minority of MPs advocating a hard Brexit, and instead argues that a cross-party majority are in favour of a more moderate departure process.
She emphasises that “we’ve got to be realistic about the position we’re in and what’s achievable,” and warns that “the idea we’re going to get a deal that’s as good as what we’ve got at the moment is for the fairies”.
Soubry is highly critical of the overall approach taken during the Brexit campaign. She denounces Remain as “a dreadful campaign” which “never sang the positives of our membership of the European Union” and committed the “terrible mistake” of failing to talk about immigration.
[blockquote author=”” pull=”normal”]Jeremy Corbyn is a Brexiteer, she says – and he “always has been”[/blockquote]
Whilst condemning the “atrocious fibbing” which occurred during the Leave campaign, and stressing that “they blatantly told lies on a bus,” Soubry believes “they ran a very good campaign,” citing in particular their “outstanding” slogan of “take back control”.
She also refers to “the terrible three” figures she feels were most prominent in the vote to leave: Michael Gove (“the brains” behind Leave), Boris Johnson (“the populism”), and Jeremy Corbyn, who is “a Brexiteer and always has been,” and who failed to push for Remain.
Soubry “absolutely” stands by her recent tweets calling for Johnson to be sacked for “longstanding incompetence and disloyalty,” stating he has “really let himself down as foreign secretary” and “has been found badly wanting,” failing to follow his stint as “a really good mayor of London”.
Soubry’s high-profile campaign for a soft Brexit has attracted significant criticism from some sections of the media. She was recently named as one of a group of “Brexit Mutineers” on the front page of the Daily Telegraph newspaper (below ).
She describes such behaviour, in addition to other prominent criticisms of those seen to be acting against Brexit – such as the Daily Mail’s infamous “enemies of the people” characterisation of the judges who ruled Article 50 could not be triggered without a Parliamentary vote – as “appalling behaviour”.
Characterising the writers of such headlines as “Brexit bully boys” who “will use any trick in the book” to further their own ideologies, she believes there is “definitely” a link between these “deeply irresponsible” media portrayals and the death threats she has received.
[blockquote author=”” ]Brexit represents “the most important set of decisions since the Second World War”[/blockquote]
She states that “the language [used in the media] is often mirrored” in these threats, and emphasises it is “beholden on everybody involved in public life” to “respect other people’s views” and “have a responsibility over the language [they] use”.
On the problem of the abuse of MPs, many of them female, through social media and other channels, Soubry believes “we do have a problem” with misogyny.
Referring to the recent Presidents Club scandal, Soubry says she is “horrified” that “in 2018 we still have all-male dinners where women are being hired as bait for rich, powerful men”.
Also discussing issues such as the recent pay scandal at the BBC, and the abuse of women in public life, Soubry admits that “I do worry about where we are with the equality and emancipation of women”.
She suggests that “a lot of it is up to your generation,” encouraging students and millennials to protect and further the freedoms achieved during the lifetimes of their mothers and grandmothers.
Discussing the recent harassment scandals within Parliament, Soubry champions ensuring “proper procedure and proper protection” to investigate accusations of abuse.
On the Prime Minister and criticisms of her performance in office, Soubry argues it would be “deeply irresponsible” to undergo a Conservative leadership campaign during the Brexit negotiations, a period she views as dominated by “the most important set of decisions since the Second World War”.
[blockquote author=”” ]A Conservative leadership contest would be “deeply irresponsible” during Brexit negotiations[/blockquote]
Moving to discuss her own legacy as a parliamentarian, Soubry recalls the work she did as a minister, and is proud of her influence over policies to ensure pensions for military widows who remarry, and in preventing the fall of the British steel industry during her time as Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise.
It is clear, however, that Soubry still has much to say in Parliament, and that her legacy may yet involve an influential contribution as Britain approaches the looming Brexit deadline.
Photograph: Claire Cortese