Anna Soubry has threatened to leave the Conservative party should the government press on with a hard Brexit in an article in the Mail on Sunday. In doing so, she has become the first Conservative MP to take such a strong anti-Brexit position.
In the artilce, Soubry hinted at the formation of a new anti-Brexit party, saying that, if the Prime Minister was ‘not prepared to confront the ideologues’ in cabinet she would leave the party to work with ‘like-minded people who want to save our country from such an appalling fate’.
Ms Soubry wrote:
“There are sensible, moderate wise owls in the Cabinet and on the Conservative back benches.”
“Mrs May must waste no time in taking on the 'Hard Brexiteers' and making it clear that she sides with responsible Cabinet Ministers - such as Chancellor Philip Hammond - who appreciate that we need a sensible Brexit transition period to avoid plunging this country headlong into an economic nightmare.”
Philip Hammond has been relatively open about his desire for as soft a Brexit as possible, and has been widely attacked for holding this view by the right of the party. It is widely believed that the chancellor is being side-lined in cabinet.
“If the Prime Minister or her successor (in the event of Theresa standing down) is not prepared to confront the ideologues, I gravely fear that the party could split - and that would change Britain's political landscape completely.”
“There is a sense of resignation among most people who voted Remain that we have to “man up” - even the women among us - and make the most of what we know will be a rotten Brexit.”
“But it does not have to be like that. Brexit is a self-inflicted wound; the people of this country hold the knife and they don't have to use it if they don't want to. The people, not the hardline Brexiteers, are in charge.”
There has been widespread speculation about the prospects of a new pro-Europe party in the image of the SDP since Owen Smith lost the 2016 Labour leadership election. At this point, it seems unlikely that such a party will emerge, however the appetite for a new broad centrist party to champion the pro-Europe cause exists beyond Labour’s moderates. Should a Conservative form that party first, the shape of such a movement would be entirely different to the centre-ground party many assumed would be formed last year.