A Conservative MP has been told to read a history book after suggesting that Ireland should be threatened with food shortages if the Brexit backstop remains.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said Priti Patel’s comments are “ridiculous”, while Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald told British politicians to read a history book and learn about the Famine.
In a British government report leaked to the Times yesterday, Ms Patel claimed that Ireland could face worse food shortages than Britain if there is a no-deal Brexit, and that shortages should be used to encourage the EU and Ireland to scrap the North’s backstop deal.
“This paper appears to show the government were well aware Ireland will face significant issues in a no-deal scenario,” she said. “Why hasn’t this point been pressed home during negotiations? There is still time to go back to Brussels and get a better deal.”
While Ms Patel did not directly raise the spectre of the Famine, her comments have been widely seen to mirror the 1845-1849 period which saw almost 1m people die and many more emigrate.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar sidestepped the issue yesterday, saying he does not expect “food shortages” because “obviously we have our own food in Ireland”, but Ms Patel was heavily criticised by other politicians.
In a statement to the Irish Examiner, a spokesperson for Mr Coveney said Ms Patel’s comments are the latest example of the “ridiculous carry-on from an MP from a neighbouring state and ally”.
Ms McDonald said Ms Patel must apologise for the hurtful remarks and that she and other British politicians need to read a history book if they believe nothing wrong was said.
“I think that statement was, for obvious historical reasons, very distasteful,” she said. “It also belies a really reckless and almost juvenile mentality.”
EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan said such a tactic would lead to “the starvation of the British people”.
He said the remarks showed “how much out of touch” Ms Patel was because the UK must import 60% of its food.
Similar remarks were made by the North’s Alliance party MLA Naomi Long, while Scotland first minister Nicola Sturgeon said Ms Patel’s comments show “the sheer moral bankruptcy of the Tory Brexiteers on full display”.
The British parliament is set to vote on the Brexit deal on Tuesday.