A senior British political figure who called for a discussion on halting all British food into Ireland if the Irish continue to insist on a no border deal has been forced to clarify her comments.
Half of the food consumed in Ireland is imported from Britain and any disruption of that supply chain would have enormous consequences.
The call for what is being called a new Famine attempt came from Priti Patel, 46, of Ugandan Indian heritage whose family fled Uganda during the dictator Idi Amin reign of terror.
She is a former cabinet member where she was Minister for Overseas Development and before that Employment Minister. She is now a leading Brexit advocate often appearing to model herself on Margaret Thatcher.
Now she is furiously backtracking as there has been universal condemnation of her call to cut off British food supplies into Ireland unless the Irish give up their insistence on no physical border between North and South known as the backstop.
Patel is one of the most hardline Conservative Party MPs and is vehemently opposed to Theresa May’s deal on Brexit which will be voted on this week.
She was reacting to a leaked UK government report finding that there could be food shortages in Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It said the economic impact on Ireland would be worse than in the UK.
“This paper appears to show the government were well aware Ireland will face significant issues in a no-deal scenario. Why hasn’t this point (threat of food shortages as leverage) been pressed home during negotiations,” she told The Times in reference to the report.
“There is still time to go back to Brussels and get a better deal,” she said.
Ireland imports $5 billion a year in food from Britain, about 50 percent of all food consumed.
Patel was accused of wanting to start a new Famine, a fact quickly picked up by commentators.
Irish European Union Commissioner Phil Hogan stated: “British consumers will be horrified at the notion that a senior politician, a former minister, would take such a view.”
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald offered to buy her a book on the Famine.
If Priti Patel really did suggest that Britain should use the threat of food shortages to force Ireland to change its approach to Brexit, which I find hard to believe, then I'm more shocked than I can say. Have we learned nothing since the 1840s?— John Simpson (@JohnSimpsonNews) December 7, 2018
Leading BBC journalist John Simpson tweeted: “If Priti Patel really did suggest that Britain should use the threat of food shortages to force Ireland to change its approach to Brexit, which I find hard to believe, then I’m more shocked than I can say. Have we learned nothing since the 1840s?”
Labour MP David Lammy also recalled the Famine: “The starvation of innocent Irish men, women and children was one of the most shameful episodes in British colonial history. Priti Patel’s comments expose either extreme callousness or ignorance. Shame on her either way for throwing salt at old wounds.”
Owen Smith, a former candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party, described her comments as inexcusable.
“Ireland is our ally, friend and neighbour. To level this threat is as ignorant as it is reckless. I hope she reflects and refracts as soon as is possible. Her party leader should insist that she does.”
It is clear my comments on‘ No Deal’ have been taken out of context by some. We should go back to Brussels & get a better deal. There is still time. Let’s take back control of borders, laws & money.— Priti Patel MP (@patel4witham) December 7, 2018
Patel has now stated her comments were taken out of context.
Former SDLP leader Mark Durcan responded: “No, Priti, they weren’t taken out of context. What thought did you give to their content or context? Insulting people’s intelligence won’t redress or spin insults to identity & interests. But thanks for exhibit proof of the need for backstop & dangers with any parliamentary lock!”