EU referendum: Respected Tory MP Sarah Wollaston quits Leave campaign over 'false' NHS claims

Dr Wollaston said the claim leaving the EU would give money to the NHS was 'simply untrue'

Jon Stone
Thursday 09 June 2016 13:24 BST
Tory MP Sarah Wollaston quits Leave campaign over 'false' data

A respected Conservative MP who chairs an influential parliamentary committee has quit the EU Leave campaign over its “false” NHS claims.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, a former GP who represents Totnes, said Vote Leave’s claim that leaving the EU would provide £350 million for the NHS “simply isn’t true”.

The doctor, who declared for Leave at the start of the campaign, said she realised her view had changed after she had received her postal ballot papers.

“For someone like me who has long campaigned for open and honest data in public life 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,” she told the BBC.

“If you're in a position where you can't hand out a Vote Leave leaflet, you can't be campaigning for that organisation.”

She added that there would likely be a “Brexit penalty” to the National Health Service because of the economic shock caused by leaving the bloc.

“The consensus now is there would be a huge economic shock if we voted to leave,” she said.

“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.”

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Dr Wollaston was instantly subjected to aggressive attacks from Leave campaigners on social media after she made her announcement on Wednesday night.

Multiple users suggested she had been “bought”, or was a “plant” from the beginning of the campaign, destined to switch sides. She also received misogynistic abuse.

As chair of the House of Commons Health Select Committee the MP is in charge of scrutinising Government policy on the NHS.

Others said they respected her for admitting she had changed her mind in the face of evidence.

Dr Wollaston was chosen as Tory candidate for Totnes in UK’s first full open primary selection and since entering parliament has not shied away from criticising Government policy.

Among many positions critical of the Government, the independent-minded MP previously opposed the bombing of Syria in 2013, criticised a Government plan to force obese people to go on a diet or lose their benefits, and said flying flags at half mast following the death of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah was “inappropriate”.

She has not served in the Government, instead having remained on the backbenches.

When she originally declared for Leave she had said she was “in love with the possibilities of the EU but can no longer ignore the grinding reality of the institution”.

Her change of heart comes as the former Conservative defence secretary who served under Margaret Thatcher's Government quit the Tory party over its leadership's conduct during the referendum campaign.

Sir John Nott said David Cameron's team was "alienating Conservatives" and said he would not rejoin the organisation "until we have a change of leadership”.

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