By Editor-In-Chief Guinevere Poncia
11.25 am in Portcullis House. It is Wednesday, and Anna Soubry needs to leave at 11.30 to go and get her seat in the Chamber for PMQs. Running late from a previous meeting means I have five minutes with her. In that time, we discuss her motivation for becoming an MP, being a woman and ‘rebel’ in Parliament, Margaret Thatcher, and dealing with online abuse. First impressions count for a lot, but rarely in so short a time is someone's drive, passion, and integrity so evident and compelling.
Having had a career in both journalism and law, Anna Soubry became the Conservative MP for Broxtowe in 2010. During her time in Parliament, she has served as a junior minister for both Health and Defence, and was the Minister for Small Businesses. Soubry backed the 'Remain' campaign in the 2016 Referendum, and has since been an ardent critic of many prominent figures who supported leaving the EU, notably, Boris Johnson. She has recently made some particularly inflammatory headlines for rebelling against her party on the issue of Parliament having a vote on the final referendum deal.
GP: What motivated you to become an MP?
AS: Like all Members of Parliament you want to make a difference, you want to make a change, and you want to make people’s lives better. What distinguishes most of us is how we achieve that common goal.
GP: You infamously called out Dennis Skinner in 2015 for his inappropriate comments likening you to Margaret Thatcher in the Chamber. How do you find being a woman in Parliament?
AS: You do get some nonsense, which is quite concerning, that in 2018 there are still some people who really don’t understand that it is 2018 and that women are here and we’re here to stay! I think in both parties you get people with unacceptable attitudes, and yes, I do get very agitated when people fall into that stereotype "I’m a woman, I’m a Tory, therefore I must be Margaret Thatcher". For God’s sake! Get a grip. Move on.
*I gesture towards a pop art-style picture of Margaret Thatcher that hangs in the entrance to her office*
AS: Ah well, you see the excellent painting outside it is quite irreverent!
Of course, Margaret Thatcher was the first woman to lead a major political party in Britain, and the first female Prime Minister. Like her or not, she achieved a great deal. There were mistakes that were made, and I think by the end she’d stopped being the champion of ordinary people and started to believe her own hype. But she did achieve an enormous turnaround in the fortunes of this country. I do sometimes think that the vilification of her by the Left, which is deeply unpleasant, actually stems from their own problems with women and their own misogyny.
GP: Speaking of political unpleasantness, I see you’ve got the ‘Brexit Mutineers’ Telegraph cover on your wall too. This cover has been blamed for directing a lot of abuse towards MPs who don't tow the line on Brexit. But more worryingly, you’ve been the recipient of a lot of abuse, not only from the press, but online too. Has this got worse following the Referendum, and how do you deal with it?
AS: It’s definitely got worse. We all know that after Brexit the number of hate crimes increased, so not only has the unpleasantness got worse for Members of Parliament, but also for people who come from other countries to live and work in the UK. Even more appallingly, people with black and brown faces, second or third generation immigrants, are being asked “why are you still here? Go back to your own country.” I mean, how much more ashamed can you be of the current state of affairs than after that and what has happened to so many brilliant people who are British through and through but just happen not to have white skin?! These attitudes also affect all those EU workers, without whom our economy and our public series could not survive. It was appalling.
GP: You’re more recently known for being a rebel in your own party, over Amendment 7 for example. What motivates you to defy the party line on issues such as Brexit?
AS: The thing is, as the great Ken Clarke said, our views on Europe were the views and policy of the Conservative Party for fifty years. Only now are we being seen as rebels, we were always mainstream, which speaks a lot about the awfully unfortunate situation that my party has got itself into. But, in any event, Brexit has always been a cross-party issue, and working cross-party (which I think people like!) is beneficial for many reasons. I think we should do more of it, notably on the NHS and social care. It should not be a criticism.
The vote on Amendment 7 was all about Parliament, not ministers, having a meaningful say on the terms upon which we leave the European Union. So the idea that it was somehow something wrong, on the contrary, it absolutely resonated with the results of the Referendum, where 52% of those who voted, voted apparently to "take back control" only to see actually a power grab by government on a scale we haven’t seen for hundreds and hundreds of years.
- Anna Soubry MP Website (Accessed February 2018)
- Will Worley, 'Boris Johnson attacked by Tory Minister Anna Soubry for placing 'leadership ambitions ahead of our children's future', The Independent (25 June 2016)
- Steven Swinford, 'The Brexit mutineers: At least 15 Tory MPs rebel against leave date with threat to join forces with Labour', The Telegraph (14 November 2017)
- #MailFrontPages, Daily Mail U.K., Twitter (13 December 2017)
- Rowena Mason and Heather Stewart, 'Daily Telegraph 'Brexit mutineers' front page blamed for threats to MP', The Guardian (15 November 2017)
- Jon Sharman, 'Amendment 7: What is it and how does it change Brexit?', The Independent (13 December 2017)
- Heather Saul, 'Dennis Skinner accused of sexism by Anna Soubry over Thatcher comparison', The Independent (14 October 2015)
Image: Wikimedia Commons
This interview was conducted on 31st January 2018.