At the risk of sounding flash, when I was growing up during the 1970s my family, unlike neighbours and school friends, enjoyed the luxury of multi-channel TV. By some quirk, the bog-standard aerial atop our bog-standard house received not one, but two of the franchised ITV channels, thereby according us the dizzying choice of four stations. Actually, given that the ITV programming was almost identical save for regional news and occasional shows of local interest, it was more like having three-and-a-bit different channels; nevertheless, in those simpler times we felt truly blessed.
For the commercial channel, this gave us the choice between Scottish Television from Glasgow, covering our area in Central Scotland, or Grampian Television, broadcast from the more distant Aberdeen for the North East. We invariably watched the homespun Grampian, and during the early eighties a presenter on its early evening news magazine, North Tonight, was Anna Soubry. Yes, the same Anna Soubry: the ardent Remainer, ringleader of the faction dubbed ‘Brexit mutineers’ and MP for Brussels West – at least that is the constituency whose interests Soubry increasingly appears to represent, rather than having any sympathy for the 54.6 per cent in Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire, who voted to leave the EU.
Anna joined Grampian after Selina Scott was plucked from that broadcasting backwater to present ITN’s News at Ten. Little could viewers have imagined that their replacement newscaster would one day be a thorn in the side of a government attempting to extricate the UK from the tentacles of the European Union, which then was the plain old EEC and still naively regarded by most of the electorate as just a benign trading bloc. In fact, as demonstrated by this photo from 1982, at that point Anna Soubry’s most likely career move was to become the stunt double for Coronation Street’s Deirdre Barlow.
But Soubry did not make it to the cobbles of Weatherfield and, as can be seen from this clip, she was still a Grampian presenter in May 1983, on the greatest night in the history of Aberdeen Football Club. A squad entirely of Scots, managed by future Manchester United boss and knight of the realm Alex Ferguson, defeated the mighty Real Madrid to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup, still one of the most glorious achievements by a British club. But one wonders whether Anna Soubry joined in the celebrations, or if she argued that the result should have been overturned. Because to apply Anna’s subsequent philosophy, evidently the opposition was misled regarding the ability of the Aberdeen team; once Madrid had learned what to expect, surely Aberdeen’s narrow 2-1 win was no longer legitimate and the competition’s governing body ought to have ordered a more meaningful replay.
Anna Soubry departed Aberdeen soon afterwards; whether disgust at the local underdogs toppling a European institution played any part is something only she will know. But however miffed she was by that surprise win, it was nothing compared with her emotional meltdown following her team’s shock defeat in June 2016. Addressing the crowd which had swiftly gathered outside Parliament to proclaim its continued allegiance to a foreign, anti-democratic, institutionally corrupt oligarchy, a bananas Anna bleated that her elderly mother and millennial daughters had all cried following the vote to leave the EU. Many TCW readers will empathise with the lachrymose Soubry family; the difference being that in the early hours of 24 June 2016 our tears dried only once we had stopped laughing.
Much less amusing was Anna Soubry’s recent trip, accompanied by Dominic Grieve, Chuka Umunna and two others from Labour, to genuflect before Michel Barnier. ‘It’s all sorted,’ Anna is reported to have joked. ‘We’re staying.’ Except that Soubry is not joking: this is still the intended endgame for EU-devotees on both sides of the House, the fanatics now emboldened by parliamentary arithmetic which encourages rebellion by the Never-Leave faction of Tories (a sect which might further expand now that Justine Greening is on the back benches).
Interviewed 24 hours later on Daily Politics, Soubry denied Jo Coburn’s accusation that the group’s beano to Brussels was ‘betraying those who voted to leave’. She also declined to disclose what had been said during what she described as a private discussion, though this was surely the main reason why the programme booked her. (Soubry did, however, happily tip more ordure over Boris Johnson, and later she sourly disputed the popularity of Jacob Rees-Mogg amongst Conservative voters). In the highly unlikely event of a future leadership run-off between Anna and Jacob, she would certainly find out where their allegiance lies.
The symbolism of the photocall with Barnier was humiliating enough. But supplicant MPs providing the opposition’s chief negotiator with a first-hand account of how they are determined to prevent any meaningful Brexit must further diminish any prospect of the disreputable EU – keen to administer maximum punishment – offering the UK a worthwhile trade deal. ‘We’ve brought ideas and solutions’ was one reported quote attributed to the rebel group. But of course, these ‘ideas and solutions’ comprise staying part of both the single market and customs union, thereby keeping de facto membership of the EU. Small wonder that soon after Soubry’s pilgrimage to the Remainers’ mecca, European Council President Donald Tusk publicly invited ‘a change of heart among our British friends’.
But credit where it is due: whatever her behaviour since the referendum, we Brexiteers owe Anna Soubry a huge debt of thanks. Because for all the talk of the electorate being misled into voting Leave by the number 350M bus service, for several years preceding the referendum there was no more effective recruiting sergeant for the anti-EU cause than Ms Soubry herself. A constant presence on TV and radio, her blind devotion to Brussels and lofty dismissals of any concerns that mass immigration due to free movement might have some downside, especially the strain it places upon services in working-class areas, must have helped drive millions, if not necessarily into the embrace of Nigel Farage and UKIP, then certainly into voting Leave.
Farage is someone Anna Soubry evidently loathes, having previously accused him of putting ‘fear into people’s hearts’ over uncontrolled migration. She once made her contempt abundantly clear during an edition of Andrew Marr when, strangely giddy, she interrupted Rory Bremner’s impression of Farage: not only did she announce that Nigel ‘looks like somebody has put their finger up his bottom and he rather likes it’, she also demonstrated the manoeuvre. Watch Peter Mandelson react as though he is beside an eccentric aunt who has had one sherry too many.
Said by a male MP regarding a woman, that notorious remark and gesture would have ended a political career. Of course Soubry survived, though at the time Farage was livid at being the subject of her obscenity. But Nigel is no longer alone: since June 2016, there are a further 17.4million of us to whom Anna Soubry has given the finger.