Statement from Sarah Wollaston

14th August 2019

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 benefitting 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.

Sarah Wollaston (image copyright Totnes Pulse)

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?

…government had abandoned its promise

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.

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Emily McGrath
Emily McGrath
2 years ago

Brilliant stuff, well done Sarah.

Sheila Aldous
2 years ago

My full reply was deleted. What I am saying in essence is that Conservatives who were voted in, and have changed sides, need to have a by election. You were voted in as a Conservative, not just as Sarah Wollaston. If Boris Johnson should not be leader of the conservatives, then neither should Jo Swinson be leader of the LIberal Party. If there is an general Election and the people vote for another party to be in government then why should we accept that? If another referendum is to be put forward why should the result be upheld. If England lose the World Cup, why not have a replay. Don’t you see you are destroying Freedom that has been so valued in this country. You are throwing the baby out with the bath water and for what? Just because you do not believe in the democratic process? You cannot expect to be unquestioned or believed. Integrity is a valuable asset and the Conservatives particularly who have deserted their own party have shown they do not have this. Why without integrity, should any of you be trusted. Carry out the wishes of the people and do the right thing. Uphold the vote of the referendum to Leave the European Union. To say we should change our minds is totally wrong. You were in government, but you and those like you, who ignore freedom, are playing a risky game, once you have given away liberty you may not get it back. Think very seriously about what ou have done to destroy this country. Think about the failings in the EU, how it is tying the hands of the people of the UK. Do the honourable thing.

Stu Lambert
Stu Lambert
2 years ago
Reply to  Sheila Aldous

I agree with Sheila’s comment that there should have been a by-election when Sarah Wollaston left the Conservatives. I vote Green but it can never be clear whether Tory voters supported her or her party without a by-election.