The Big Weekend Interview: Brexit voters have '˜been tricked, lied-to and conned'

Anna Soubry's passionate interjections on the dangers of Brexit have earned her both death threats from extremist right-wingers and letters of praise from disillusioned Labour supporters.

Broxtowe MP, Anna Soubry
Broxtowe MP, Anna Soubry

But the fiercely pro-Europe MP is only just getting started in her fight against a “hugely damaging” Hard Brexit, which she believes poses “a serious threat” to families and businesses across Yorkshire.

The 60-year-old made headlines last year after turning down a position in Theresa May’s new administration in favour of a return to the backbenches.

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She has since been making use of her new found freedom to challenge the “baloney” peddled by some of her Brexiteer Tory colleagues – and believes Leave voters in Yorkshire should be feeling angry.

“There will be a lot of your readers who – when they saw Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and all these people standing outside that bus saying £350m a week extra for the NHS – couldn’t believe senior politicians would stand in front of it unless it was the truth,” she tells the Yorkshire Post.

“But it was a lie. Because we don’t even send that amount, and we certainly aren’t getting it back, and people should be cross that they’ve been tricked, lied-to and conned.

“The idea that there’s a whole load of countries queuing up to do trade with us is just baloney – you’d need somewhere in the region of 200 New Zealands and Australias before you get even near to … the amount of trade we do with [the EU].

“It’s not the fault of people who voted Brexit – they’ve done that in good faith. [But] they’ve been misled by leave leaders, and I’m afraid some of those are Conservatives.”

Despite nine months elapsing since the referendum vote, Ms Soubry is clearly as fired-up about the result as ever.

Speaking to her, it seems much of this determination is drawn from attempts to silence her protests, including in the form of death threats.

But she is also driven by a sense that others – including a lot of the country’s business leaders – are holding back for fear of the abuse they will face should they dare to voice their concerns. And she is equally determined to root-out any mis-truths and misconceptions about the importance of the Single Market and the impact of immigration.

“In Yorkshire, just like anywhere else, you’ll have a lot of people involved in businesses who are in absolute despair at the prospect of a hard Brexit,” she claims.

“Unless they stand up and speak, we will have the one thing we don’t need and that’s a hard Brexit. And that will be hugely damaging for the economy.

“Your readers – real human beings – will lose their jobs, and their livelihoods will be diminished, and it wont just be them, it will be their children and their grandchildren.

“That’s real – that’s not scare, that’s not project fear... people have got understand the realities of a hard Brexit.”

The former barrister is not afraid to criticise the Government’s decision to prioritise immigration in Brexit negotiations, declaring it “outrageous” that it is seen as more important than the economy. She is also highly critical of Labour, whose past failure to engage with communities she blames for the sense of disempowerment that led many to vote leave last June.

She reveals she has received letters of support from some pro-remain Labour voters, who feel their views are not being represented by the party’s current leadership. She describes these as “quite touching”, stating: “There’s a huge part of our country who feel they have no voice.”

Anyone who follows Westminster politics closely will have been familiar with Soubry long-before she began speaking out about Brexit. She enjoyed a speedy ascension to the frontbenches after her initial election as the MP for Broxtowe in 2010, becoming a junior health minister in 2012, before moving to defence and eventually business.

She puts this meteoric rise down to a lunch she had with the then-Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of a disastrous interview by former Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, in which he tried to defend rape sentencing guidelines.

Responding to claims that some rapists were serving just 15 months in jail, Mr Clark controversially suggested that “a serious rape” would carry a longer sentence.

“I explained to the Prime Minister... about the offence of rape, because I had been involved in a number of rape cases, and he said ‘you talk a lot of sense, you should get out there more’,” Soubry recollects.

“At the at point I suddenly did Newsnight and a whole load of things, and not long after that I was made a Parliamentary Under Secretary for Health.”

As a Defence Minister, she claims one of her proudest moments was securing reforms which allowed war widows and widowers to keep their deceased partner’s pensions after they remarried. Her subsequent role as the Minister for Industry saw her play a high-profile role in the fight to save steelworks after Tata announced the sale of its UK operations.

This track record in Government would be an admirable achievement for even the most ambitious of career politicians. But professional politics is technically Soubry’s third calling, after a successful careers in broadcast journalism and law.

She claims she originally wanted to work in radio, but like all budding journalists she was advised to start with a job at a local paper, so took up a position as a trainee reporter with a bi-weekly. This quickly led to a job at Grampian television, before an opportunity arose with Central in Nottinghamshire.

“Within a matter of months we were in the mining strike, which would take me to Sheffield and various places,” she says. “We used to take all the stickers off the cameras, because if [protestors] knew we were from Central we would just get beaten up. They used to say ‘are you from Scabland?’ and would say ‘no, no, we’re from Channel 4’.

“It was a dreadful time, but from a journalist’s point of view it was a remarkable time.

“It was the last industrial battle between unions and employers … and I was right in the thick of it.”