Boost for Remain as Sarah Wollaston switches sides in EU debate
Conservative MP hit out at ‘post-truth politics’ and said it was ok for politicians to change their minds.
Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston has switched sides in the EU referendum campaign, saying she can no longer support the Leave campaign's "untrue" claims about NHS spending.
With Wollaston known as one of the Tory party’s more moderate and telegenic figures, the ‘defection’ is being seen as a significant boost for the Remain campaign.
The chair of the Health Select Committee said she could not support the claim that the UK could get back £350m per week from its EU budget contributions and spend the money on the health service.
"I could not have set foot on a battle bus that has at the heart of its campaign a figure that I know to be untrue," the former GP told the BBC.
She argued that, far from a financial bonus from taking money back from Brussels, leaving the EU would hit NHS funding.
"The consensus now is there would be a huge economic shock if we voted to leave. Undoubtedly, the thing that's most going to influence the financial health of the NHS is the background economy. So I think there would be a Brexit penalty."
On the BBC's Daily Politics, Wollaston suggested that others might follow in her footsteps: "Certainly in private conversations there are people who have told me they are having doubts."
In an earlier interview on the Radio 4 Today programme, she claimed that Vote Leave campaigners admit in private that their claim about EU membership costing £350m a week is not true.
“I think right from the outset there are people within the Leave campaign who acknowledge in private that they know this is not true, but what they are trying to encourage is a discussion about the amount.
“Well, this is a kind of post-truth politics. Having come into public life complaining about open and honest data, I can’t step foot on a battlebus or distribute a leaflet with information that I know to be untrue. And I’ve told them that.”
She also defended her change of heart by insisting that people were more irritated by politicians who refuse to change their minds about an issue.
"The point is that we are all immensely frustrated with some of the imperfections within the EU. We would all like it to operate differently, many of us have those feelings about the fundamental points about sovereignty and all those arguments.
“But the question is: As you listen to all the arguments, as the campaign develops, do you sometimes come to a different position? And that’s where I am. And I know some people get very cross about politicians who change their minds but I think many of us are more irritated by people who can’t and won’t change their mind.”
Also on the Today programme, Conservative MP John Redwood said he hoped Wollaston would reconsider. But he also acknowledged the £350 million was the gross figure of the UK's contribution to the EU, before the rebate and the money that came back to the UK.
The Leave supporter said: "Our Brexit budget has always concentrated on all the money we do send to them that we don't get back, which is about half of that gross total."
Wollaston's shift was immediately hailed as a "powerful intervention" by David Cameron, but some Brexit campaigners complained that the BBC was overheating the story.