Former Conservative MP turned independent, Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) is now joining the Liberal Democrats:
I am delighted to be joining the Liberal Democrats under the leadership of Jo Swinson.
I believe the best way for me to represent my constituents in Totnes is to be working as part of a fantastic team of Liberal Democrat MPs who are unequivocally making the case for us to remain at the heart of Europe, as well as campaigning for social justice, the environment and our public services.
Chair of the Health Select Committee, Sarah Wollaston was originally elected after an open primary in her constituency. With the recent election of Jane Dodds and switch* of Chuka Umunna, this brings the number of Liberal Democrat MPs up to fourteen.
Jo Swinson welcomed Sarah Wollaston’s recruitment, saying:
I am thrilled that Sarah has chosen to join the Liberal Democrats.
Sarah is a fierce campaigner who I have enjoyed working with in the campaign to stop Brexit and as one of the most respected Members of Parliament and brings real expertise to our team.
Sarah Wollaston’s switch is, by the way, another recent repudiation of the old political rule that the only political defections which get widely talked about in advance are those which never happen. It’s no longer the case that the smart response to rumours is to say that their existence proves their error.
Sarah Wollaston’s statement on switching to the Lib Dems
Here’s what she posted on Facebook, explaining her decision:
After very careful thought, I have come to the conclusion that I can best serve the interests of this constituency by joining the Liberal Democrats.
Brexit has not only sucked all the political oxygen from government over the past three years, but it has also consumed the funding and energy that should have been invested in local communities, tackling climate change and supporting the workforce and infrastructure of our NHS, schools and transport. Just as we could and should have been benefiting from economic recovery after years of austerity, that has been put into reverse because of the march to No Deal.
As many of you know, after the referendum I committed myself to delivering the political result of that vote although I had personally voted Remain. I did so, because I respect the majority of those who voted that wanted us to take a different path.
However, what most of us did not know at the time was the extent of the economic fall out of that decision, or the form Brexit would take. There is still no agreement either in Parliament, or across the country, about what Brexit should look like, and we now know far more about the trade-offs and compromises that will be necessary if we are to reduce the harms.
As a doctor for over twenty-four years, I try to base my decisions on evidence, and as that emerges, to be open to changing course. As the economic facts unfolded, I found myself unable to support a version of Brexit with consequences that I know would hurt so many individuals, businesses, families and communities. Brexit does not just affect the 17 million who voted to Leave but all the 67 million people living in the UK.
I cannot remember a more turbulent or divisive time in our politics. There is a deep and growing sense of unease about our country’s future, our place in the world and the kind of environment and society we are leaving for the next generation.
People want something better and fairer for our communities. They care deeply about rising homelessness, climate change, crime and the widening gulf in health between rich and poor. Many are asking the obvious question about why, if hard Brexit is such a great policy, are we having to spend billions preparing to mitigate the negative consequences?
Good ideas rarely require planning for mass bailouts of collapsing businesses including farming or the emergency air-freighting of vital medicines and food supplies. This is money that could, and should have been spent tackling poverty, improving life chances and genuinely providing new resources for priorities like education, policing, social care and the NHS.
Britain deserves better, and my fellow MPs need to read the evidence and act in the national interest rather than Party interest, and they need to act now before it is too late.
Earlier this year I left the Conservative Party because I felt that the government had abandoned its promise to tackle the burning injustices across our society. It had moved to the right and become obsessed with a damaging form of Brexit.
Several MPs from both main parties felt we could not passively watch our country slide towards economic ruin and the potential breakup of the United Kingdom, so we moved to set up a new grouping in the centre ground. We sought to maximise the total Remain vote in the EU election. The clear evidence following the result was this risked a serious fragmentation of the Remain vote in any future general election fought under our system of First Past The Post.
I will be more effective in campaigning for positive change as part of an established team of MPs committed to working together in the national interest. That is why I am joining Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats who are speaking out on social justice, health and the environment and making the unequivocal case for the United Kingdom’s place at the heart of the European Union where we can help shape it for all our futures.
We are now entering the final weeks to prevent the dire consequences of the PM’s ‘do or die’ approach to Brexit. Preventing that harm will take unprecedented cross-party working and my in-box has been full of messages urging me to be part of a Remain Alliance which I will be doing through joining the Liberal Democrats.
My in-box also has messages from some who ask if I am calling a by-election in Totnes. The answer is straightforward; I will be backing an election in Totnes by voting no confidence in the government at the earliest opportunity. 99.86% of the population had no choice whatsoever about our current Prime Minister and I believe the whole electorate deserves a say. It is a general election that is needed, not just a by-election, and it needs to take place before we leave the EU.
The Liberal Democrats under the new leadership of Jo Swinson are outward looking and unequivocally committed to remaining at the heart of an evolving Europe. In this new political landscape, I feel this is the best political party from which to stand up for the communities I am privileged to represent. I hope that you will join me.
* Why yes, Rule 2(b) applies.