The Conservative MP switched from Leave to Remain. Now she hopes millions of voters will make the same journeyby Alex Dean / October 2, 2018 / Leave a comment
Ever since the 2016 EU referendum lots of MPs, particularly on the Conservative side, have been at pains to shed their Remainer reputations. Previously outspoken pro-Europeans now pretend they had nothing to do with “Stronger In” at all. Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid fight to prove their pro-Brexit credentials.
Far fewer have travelled in the opposite direction, from Leave to Remain.
But Sarah Wollaston is not your usual kind of Conservative. Having publicly backed Leave in the run-up to the 2016 vote, the MP for Totnes actually changed her mind mid-campaign. She has since become one of parliament’s most vocal campaigners for a “people’s vote.” Chair of the health select committee, she is widely respected in the Commons, and now uses her influence to call out the hard Brexiteers.
During our conversation at Conservative conference I found her in fighting spirit. Asked what she thought of Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s recent comparison of the EU to the Soviet Union, she shot back “it’s nonsense.” I asked whether she would stay in an increasingly pro-Brexit Tory Party, and she replied: “would I feel that an increasingly right-wing Conservative Party was one that I could stand on their manifesto at the next election? I’d need to see what it looked like but no I wouldn’t.”
MPs normally display unwavering loyalty to the party. But Wollaston’s priority now is the Remain campaign. What made her change her mind in 2016? What was going to come out of the Brexit mess currently engulfing parliament? And what were the prospects for voters taking the “Wollaston journey” in a second referendum?
“I started the 2016 campaign as what you might call a soft leave eurosceptic,” Wollaston said, “and the more I listened to the relentless evidence about the complications… I realised that I couldn’t possibly continue to advocate for Leave.”
“When they announced the £350m a week for the NHS, I knew that was nonsense and I was constantly saying to them I wouldn’t go on their bus or do any platform speeches for them.”
“So many people were saying to me, quite senior people within the Leave campaign, that they knew it was false… I thought ‘I just cannot continue to have anything to do with these people.’”
It went broader than that. The NHS…