Even if we do leave the single market, Soubry doesn’t believe immigration levels will go down. “Look at the stats this week, we are almost at full employment. If we are going to be the vibrant economy that we are, we need migrant workers. That is the reality of what is going to happen. All those people in Boston, they didn’t vote leave to ‘control our borders’. They voted to reduce the number of people living in Boston from the EU! ‘Control’ means reduce. That’s what people in Boston voted for. They voted for less. Now Paul Nuttall from Ukip is saying we’ll have a visa system, and people can come here if they have a job. OK.” She narrows her eyes. “Then will there be more, less, or the same levels of immigration? Paul Nuttall refused to answer the question! Because the answer to the question would be: the same. So you tell me, if we leave the single market, what happens in Boston when those people who voted leave realise they will not see a reduction in the number of migrant workers in their town?”
Soubry pauses just long enough for me to ask her what she thinks. “They will be even more disillusioned, and they will feel even more betrayed. And I do fear about the consequences for our politics. The democratic deficit will grow, not diminish, by what happened on 23 June. Those people in Boston need to look at the Borises, the Goves, the Carswells, the Farages of this world, who have led them down a garden path into a very dense, very dark, unpleasant forest of darkness.”
If anything she is even angrier with the opposition benches. “The greatest betrayal of the liberal left in this country is by the Labour party. The profoundly peculiar thing at the moment is that the two most liberal MPs on the subject of immigration, who will stand up without fear and make the positive case for immigration, are David Lammy and me, in the face of MPs from the Labour party – the Labour party! – who I know agree with us, but are petrified, literally. They’re frozen.” Caught between constituents who voted overwhelmingly to leave, and a Corbynista “ragtag and bobtail of all sorts of lefties” who might deselect them, “They’re terrified. They daren’t speak up for immigration. It’s pathetic, it’s absolutely pathetic. They’ve left it to an old Tory like me to do it.”
She feels on firmer ground with the media. “Our media’s taken leave of its senses. Hysterical headlines are I’m afraid just becoming acceptable. I think the Daily Mail is just appalling at the moment.” She has nothing but praise for Gary Lineker, “the sensible face of our country”, and is a big fan of the current #stopfundinghate campaign to persuade advertisers to boycott newspapers that print xenophobic smears against immigrants.
“This over-sensationalisation – emotional rather than factual – it’s got to stop. You can be passionate about something but still have a reasoned debate based on fact and evidence, and not this horrible hate-filled way the media and politicians are conducting themselves. It’s appalling. We’ve lost the civilised art of robust, well-informed debate, and we need to get it back. I’m concerned that it’s now acceptable for people to say things they know aren’t true, and no one challenges them.”
Soubry offers an anecdote to illustrate how it should be done. During the referendum campaign she met a man in the east Midlands who told her that you no longer hear anyone speaking English in Newark.
“I thought, ‘I’ve had enough of this.’ I looked him straight in the eye and said: ‘That’s crap and you know it’. I said, ‘That is crap and you know it. I know Newark, and that’s crap. Of course you hear people speaking English! Overwhelmingly they’re speaking English in Newark’. And you could see him thinking, that’s absolutely true.” She snorts. “Well of course it’s true! But it’s become acceptable to say that, and people weren’t being challenged. So I challenged him.” By now she is jabbing a finger at me and her eyes are burning. “And he went, ‘Yeah, but … but … yes you’re right. But they hang around on street corners drinking beer’. And I said, heavy with sarcasm, ‘Yeah, because of course, British-born people never do that, do they?’ And you could see again, he was thinking, ‘Oh, of course she’s right.’ You see, I was challenging him! That’s how you win this argument!”
On this form, Soubry is worth watching.