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Where Are They Now? Former Change UK MP Anna Soubry

Former MP Anna Soubry talking to anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray across the road from Parliament, 19 Dec 2018 | Alamy

4 min read

Anna Soubry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe 2010 – February 2019, The Independent Group/Change UK February – December 2019

Anna Soubry found the adjustment to life post-Parliament “very easy”. She always knew she was going to lose, so it wasn’t a shock, and being an MP had never been her “great burning ambition”. “I did two jobs before: I was a journalist working in television, I was a barrister for 16 years. It wasn’t the be-all-and-end-all of my life.”

While Soubry, 64, enjoyed her time not working during Covid – embracing her love of gardening and cooking, and proudly donning a high-vis jacket as a vaccination volunteer – she has recently returned to the Bar, rejoining her old chambers last month, and loving it. 

While she says her time in Parliament has not changed her approach to criminal law, she has been apologising to colleagues for her role in cuts to the profession.

“The criminal justice system is in crisis. It’s on its knees, and it’s because we have cut it. And I was part of a government that cut it. I did what I could at the time, I spoke to then-Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, and I warned him… it was a terrible mistake,” says Soubry.

While Soubry’s proudest moments stem from her time as both public health and defence minister, she is probably best known for her opposition to Brexit and the founding of the ill-fated Change UK. A journalist who recently asked her to feature on a TV show told Soubry she was a Marmite, love or hate figure, a definition which makes her “sorry and sad”. “I accept I could be quite spiky. But my politics is the politics of pragmatism. In Brexit I was painted as this deeply divisive figure. I don’t want to be remembered like that.” 

It’s a terrible state the Conservative Party is in. Stalin would be proud of Boris Johnson

Instead, she describes herself as a “Ken Clarke-type Tory” – the two are good friends – “I’m of that social democratic, small ‘l’ liberal tradition. I have always been socially liberal, but, economically, I’m more of an old-style fiscal Tory. In 40 years my politics hasn’t really changed very much at all. It’s the Tory party that’s changed, not me.”

There is no future in which Soubry could see herself rejoining the party. Asked to identify talent coming up through Parliament, she points to the Labour benches. Those on the Conservative side she admires, such as Tom Tugendhat, Karen Bradley and Caroline Nokes, have been “muted”, she says. “They need to put their spine back in.”

“It’s a terrible state the Conservative Party is in. Stalin would be proud of Boris Johnson.”

It didn’t surprise her colleagues when she defected to The Independent Group in 2019 with Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen, the day after seven Labour MPs did the same; she had been speaking about a new party with other Conservative colleagues prior, including one who now sits as a Tory peer. Soubry says there were around 10 to 15 senior Conservatives who would have backed a “people’s vote” too.

Despite now watching PMQs and thinking it’s “dreadful”, Soubry says she did love the Commons. “There were times where I would be in absolute tears of laughter with some of the comments that people were making.” She also misses moments with Jim Shannon, who shadowed her throughout her time in government. 

Although she does a brilliant impression of both him and his DUP colleague Sammy Wilson, she says she very rarely understood what he was saying in the Chamber, leaving the ministerial team rushing to the Hansard reporters to work out what they’d promised to write to him about. Soubry’s favourite moments were the debates “when MPs were talking about issues that nobody had really talked about before, whether it was their own mental health or these heart wrenching stories of losing a baby”, she says. “Just extraordinary moments when you sat there … and I was in tears. 

“And it produced something. Something wonderfully positive came out at times."

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