Priti Patel: Use threats of food shortages to force Ireland to drop Brexit backstop

Downing Street should use the threat of food shortages in Ireland to pressure the country’s leaders to drop its demands for a Brexit “backstop” arrangement, a former Cabinet member has said. Leaked government papers show Ireland faces the prospect of taking a bigger economic hit than the UK should there be a disorderly withdrawal from the European Union. According to the documents, Ireland could see a 7 per cent drop in GDP under a no deal Brexit, whereas the UK would suffer a 5 per cent drop.

Press it home

The country also sees 80 per cent of its road freight from the EU pass through the UK, meaning any extra border checks “would cause challenges”.

Perishable goods, such as food supplies, would be particularly badly affected, the papers state. The details have been seized on by arch-Brexiteers, who believe Theresa May should be using the warnings as leverage against the Irish to scrap its demands to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. “This paper appears to show the government were well aware Ireland will face significant issues in a no-deal scenario,” Priti Patel, who was International Development Secretary until last year, told the Times.

Political cartoon from the 1880s

“Why hasn’t this point been pressed home during the negotiations?

There is still time to go back to Brussels and get a better deal.” The “backstop” has been written into the Withdrawal Agreement and acts as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border returning should Brussels and London fail to secure a future trade deal. According to the briefing papers, Ireland would suffer more from a no deal Brexit as it heavily dependent on the UK for trade, with the Britain and Northern Ireland accounting for 13.1 per cent of Irish exports and 29.1 per cent of imports.

Ms Patel’s call for Number 10 to use the details as a threat against the UK’s closest neighbour was condemned.

Morally reprehensible

Lisa Nandy, a Labour MP, said: “Threatening Ireland in this way is as morally reprehensible as it is futile. Britain should be showing itself to be a dependable neighbour and friend in the future, and it is frightening that Brexiteers are even contemplating a move which could see stopping trade, including food supplies, being weaponised in this way, particularly given the uncomfortable historical echoes.” Labour deputy leader Tom Watson added on Twitter: “This is an insult to all the people of Ireland.

It displays ignorance to history and a political insensitivity that is unworthy of an MP. She should retract and apologise.”

This is an insult to all the people of Ireland. It displays ignorance to history and a political insensitivity that is unworthy of an MP.

She should retract and apologise. https://t.co/797ec1bHp1 — Tom Watson (@tom_watson) December 7, 2018

Others pointed out the historical significance of threatening to use food shortages against the Irish. Decisions by the ruling British government during the time of the Great Famine in the mid-19th century resulted in the death of 1m people and the emigration of a 1m more.

The country’s population has still not returned to the levels before 1845.

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