THREE hours into New Year, Anna Soubry tweeted an item from that day’s Times. Her accompanying comment included the words ‘I’m pretty pickled’ – an unintentional reminder that suitable anaesthesia is recommended before tackling a column by Hugo Rifkind.

Axiomatic for Sir Malcolm’s boy is populist opinion being unenlightened, distasteful and plain wrong. Haughty Hugo’s admission that ‘a streak of Remainerism has developed, particularly online, which is just as stupid, paranoid and exclusionary as any other populism’ is excused as the inevitable consequence of Newton’s Third Law: in this case, an equal and opposite reaction to ‘monomaniacal majoritarians’.

That’ll be us.

‘Why hold yourself to a higher standard?’ is Rifkind’s rhetorical defence of the seething centrists. Namechecking charmers Andrew Adonis and Alastair Campbell as being amongst the membership of ‘my gang’, Hugo concludes: ‘Finding a new middle is hard to contemplate . . . it will involve comity with people we know, and I do mean know, to be either stupid or liars and who will get to pretend otherwise, while we pretend not to care.’

Alongside this condescending codswallop, in her full quote Anna Soubry was ‘pretty pickled off’ – a curious choice of phrase – not with Leave voters but with ‘Leave leaders who made fake promises, told lies and then abdicated responsibility to deliver Brexit’.

But who are these mythical ‘Leave leaders’ who supposedly ‘abdicated responsibility’? Vote Leave, designated the official campaign by the Electoral Commission, and Arron Banks’s rival Leave.EU were both coalitions of Euroscepticism, not governments in waiting; neither Gisela Stuart, chair of Vote Leave, nor Nigel Farage, the most evident endorser of Leave.EU, was in a position to implement the result, however much they might have wished to do so.

Parliament was – still is – overwhelmingly Remain: the DUP and UKIP, the latter with a solitary MP at the time, were the only pro-Brexit parties at Westminster; all others competitively extolled our membership of the EU. Leavers were a small minority of the then Cabinet, and David Cameron had in any case given assurance that he would stay as prime minister regardless of the result: only days before the referendum he reiterated that the vote ‘won’t be a verdict on me, whatever the outcome is’.

To state the obvious, Anna Soubry’s ill-defined ‘Leave leaders’ could do nothing unless and until someone matching that description was elevated to prime minister. Yes, when Cameron quit the Brexiteers ought to have had an agreed strategy and a single candidate, sparing us the circular firing squad which dispatched the hopes of Boris and shot Gove’s reputation. Nonetheless, if Anna genuinely believed that a prominent Leaver had ‘responsibility to deliver Brexit’, then to allow this she should have publicly supported the candidature of either Leadsom or Gove, if only to snort that having helped put the country into that position it was up to them to (literally) get us out.

Instead, she urged the party to ‘rally behind Theresa May’, who for two years duplicitously led all Leavers a merry dance, deceiving two Brexit secretaries before foisting upon the Cabinet her surreptitious surrender to the EU. Yet Soubry now pins the present predicament on ‘Leave leaders’.

‘Let’s build bridges,’ was the New Year tweet from the Member for Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire (majority 863). This is the same Anna Soubry who previously called for ‘hard ideological Brexiteers’ to be slung, if not from her unbuilt bridge, then certainly out of the Conservative Party.

During that same interview, bananas Anna emphatically was ‘not going to stay in a party taken over by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson. They’re not proper Conservatives’. Also, along with Nick Boles, Dominic Grieve and Sarah Wollaston, Soubry more recently threatened to resign the Conservative whip should we try to exit the EU without a subservient deal.

By contrast, what Soubry pejoratively calls the ‘hard, ideological Brexiteers’ have not threatened to quit the party nor demanded the expulsion of Anna and her band of Continuity Remainers. On the contrary, Jacob Rees-Mogg advocated that for unity Theresa May be replaced by ‘leading figures from either side’, proposing the unlikely union of Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd – presumably occupying separate cars. 

Improbable (and unwelcome) as that pairing would be, the sentiment behind it is not reciprocated. Instead, Anna Soubry wants 2019 to be ‘tough on Brexit and the causes of Brexit’ – gibberish of the sort liable to be tweeted by someone ‘pickled’ during the early hours of New Year’s Day.

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