Conservative MPs who want the closest possible relationship with the European Union have been ramping up their efforts to prevent the party’s arch-Brexiters from getting their way, Anna Soubry has said.
The MP for Broxtowe argued that the economic necessity of preventing a hard break from the EU meant she was not sorry for suggesting that Theresa May should “sling out” ardent leave campaigners from the party.
“Because I think like a lot of people in the Tory party and indeed Conservative voters, I think there is real concern now about the direction of travel when it comes to Brexit,” she said. “We are reaching a real crunch point and the government hasn’t worked out, 19 months on, what its end game is. And we need to know.”
Soubry talked of a “struggle” within the party about “the most important decision” since the second world war.
“For many of us our country and the interests of our constituents are more important than our party,” she said, highlighting a number of her colleagues offering their support to Stephen Hammond, after the MP for Wimbledon called on the government to pursue a soft, Norway-style deal with the EU.
In interviews with BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster programme and the Guardian, Soubry said her Brexit-supporting colleagues had used “really dreadful language” about Philip Hammond, the chancellor.
“Lets be very honest about this, mainly this is a group of people who will always put their own ideology first and foremost – bigger than any leader, bigger than any party – and they are determined they are going to get their own way,” she said in an interview to be broadcast on Saturday.
She added: “Perhaps for the first time ever in the Conservative party people are equally determined that they are not going to get their own way. I am prepared to compromise – they are not – and we are fed up.”
Her comments come after Stephen Hammond used a debate in Westminster to argue in favour of the UK joining the European Free Trade Association, which gives countries such as Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein access to the single market.
“We all know that this country voted to leave the European Union, and we accept that result,” he said. “However, what that referendum did not say was how we should leave the European Union. That is what today’s debate is about. One of the great myths of that referendum was that this country also voted to leave the single market and the customs union. It did not.”
In her interview, Soubry said May was being unrealistic about the chances of a “scrumptious bespoke deal” and would ultimately have to choose between a deal that was either “EFTA Norway or Canada”.
Speaking to the Guardian, Soubry also spoke about some of the abuse she has received since her comments this the week, including a Daily Mail article that included a personalised attack on her.
“I think the thing that upsets me is when it gets personal. At the end of the day we are all human beings: we have families, we have friends and of course we have constituents,” she said. “When you get to the level of accusing someone of pretty much being a drunk – this is outrageous.”
She said she wouldnot let the issue rest because the claims were based on comments by her Eurosceptic colleague Nadine Dorries who had since apologised.
Soubry said the pressure would make women think twice about a career in politics. “Look at what happens when women do put their head above the parapet,”she said. “A lot of women think I don’t need this. I don’t have to get into this atrocious game.”