In her latest major statement on the Tory orchestrated mess that is Brexit, my constituency opponent Anna Soubry has told the Guardian: ‘This will be the biggest mistake our country has ever made. The young will never forgive my party’. She blames Conservative Brexiteers, UKIP activists and the Labour leadership for the chaos. But she should take a very long hard look at her own responsibility for contributing to this crisis. Up until now it is something she has managed to avoid but, with her mentor David Cameron reportedly wanting to return to politics, I want to remind you of their role in creating the situation we now face.
Decisions Cameron made in the final stage of his premiership, and that Anna Soubry endorsed, have left the country deeply divided and facing huge ongoing uncertainty. And without any hint of irony my rival used her platform appearance at the recent Peoples’ Vote Rally to denounce pro-Brexit politicians for having ‘walked away’ from their ‘responsibility for this mess and for this chaos’. The same could and should be said of Cameron but you don’t hear it from the Broxtowe MP. For this would mean revisiting her own role in causing this crisis.
Anna Soubry was attending Cabinet when it supported David Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum in February 2016. Her boast of being among ‘the many’ now campaigning against Brexit glosses over her position as one of the very, very few sitting around that table in Number Ten Downing Street when Cameron announced the vote would take place on 23rd June. If the then Minister of State for Small Business and her Cabinet colleagues had properly discharged their duty nearly three years ago the country could have avoided some of the myriad of problems we now face. These relate to fundamental yet predictable questions that materialised following the vote for Brexit and have dominated the subsequent debate. They include:
- What should be the size of any ‘divorce settlement’ payable to Brussels?
- Would the country stay inside the Customs Union if not the Single Market?
- And just what exactly could be done about the UK’s resulting land border with the EU?
The Cameron government avoided these issues because their primary concern was to preserve the Conservatives’ grip on power. Encouraging the kind of frank discussions that were needed at Cabinet level would have undermined the party’s fragile unity. Anna Soubry and her colleagues went along with this and in doing so failed to try beginning to heal divisions within our country that have only deepened.
When David Cameron returned from the summit with his European counterparts in early 2016 he confidently declared he had secured the kinds of concessions that had convinced him of the need for Britain to stay inside the EU. Having embraced the pro-Remain cause at the eleventh hour, Cameron arrogantly believed he would then steer their campaign to victory and make it a hattrick alongside his triumphs in the Alternative Vote and Scottish Independence votes. But he failed to explain the significance of the supposed benefits he had just negotiated with the EU and, without pausing to seriously promote them, called the referendum. Critically Anna Soubry and the Cabinet failed to urge caution and supported what turned out to be a supreme act of self-serving recklessness. In doing so the Conservatives broke an electoral promise made in an advert promoted during the 2014 European campaign to hold the vote in 2017:
If the referendum had been held in 2017 civil servants would have had a year to work out the implications whatever the referendum outcome. But in their hubris Cameron, Soubry and their Cabinet colleagues refused to countenance the possibility of Leave winning. How could they have been so complacent? The same polling companies predicting a narrow Remain win before the referendum was formally announced had also forecast a hung parliament in the 2015 election. Neither scenario transpired but the pollsters’ miscalculations were as nothing to those of the Cabinet. Whether you voted Leave or Remain few can be satisfied with what has (not) happened since.
Anna Soubry now says Brexit is ‘undeliverable’ and ‘undefined’. While an indictment on Theresa May’s hapless stewardship of the process, the former minister cannot absolve herself from the collective responsibility of a government in which she proudly served. The then Cabinet should have made basic preparations for whatever resulted from a referendum they sanctioned. Did Anna Soubry and her fellow senior ministers talk over the implications of a Leave victory before supporting Cameron’s decision to announce the vote? Did they discuss Brexit ‘soft’ or ‘hard’, ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’, backstop or not. And if not, why not?
David Cameron has said virtually nothing since the referendum but has been busy writing his memoirs. He should devote a substantial part of his book to the enormous responsibility he bears for the chaos in which our country now finds itself. But I doubt he will. Like her mentor Cameron, Anna Soubry doesn’t do self-reflection. Too busy blaming others, she now declares: ‘We will take responsibility and sort out this mess with a peoples’ vote’. It is another soundbite that glosses over her own involvement in creating what she now calls ‘a disaster for the future of the country’.
For a supposedly plain-speaking politician Broxtowe’s MP has avoided facing questions from the people who really count- her constituents. During the 2017 General Election Anna Soubry refused to participate in any public debates with fellow candidates including myself despite having appeared in similar events in the 2015 campaign. Making yourself accountable to your voters is not something you can choose whether to do or not. Significantly the Tory candidate also failed to attend a Question Time style event during the last election hosted by the pro-Remain group Broxtowe in Europe despite now professing Brexit to be ‘the greatest and most important decision our country has taken in decades’. The Cabinet she served in self-evidently thought otherwise given the scant attention it paid to the detail of the referendum back in 2016. Then as now the Conservatives put their interests before those of the country with reckless abandon. Only a general election and the return of a Labour government will mark the beginning of the end to this chaos entirely of the Tories’ own making. Anna Soubry still claims she can contribute to resolving our problems. But like Cameron’s memoirs, I am not buying it.
Cllr Greg Marshall
Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate