Priti Patel’s comments sparking an angry response from Irish citizens and UK opposition politicians, with many claiming the comments were grossly insensitive given Ireland’s suffering during the Great Famine. The famine of 1845 to 1849 was sparked by a potato blight and hugely exacerbated by the response of the British Parliament, who ruled over Ireland at the time. While millions starved to death or were forced to emigrate, the UK government resisted sending aid to Ireland.
Charles Trevalyan, the minister tasked with organising relief, once notably claimed the famine was “the judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson”.
Ireland’s population has never recovered from the famine and is still far lower today.
Against this background, Ms Patel’s comments sparked a furious response today.
The Tory MP for Witham told The Times the Government should use warnings concerning possible food shortages as a consequence of a no-deal scenario to get a better agreement than the one struck last month by Theresa May.
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She said: “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 been pressed home during negotiations? There is still time to go back to Brussels and get a better deal.”
Her remarks caused an uproar on social media, with many arguing they were an insult to the troubled past relationship between the UK and Ireland.
Tom Blenkinsop, who was a Labour MP between 2010 and 2017 and has Irish heritage, said: “Threatening Ireland’s food supply…as a descendent of people fleeing county Mayo, it amazes me that these expensively educated Brexiteers have literally learned nowt about the history of these very isles.”
Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour party, said Ms Patel’s words were “an insult” and demanded an apology from the Brexiteer.
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He wrote 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.”
And Labour supporter and Remain activist Owen Jones said: “The Tory hard Brexiteers are now at the threatening to starve Ireland phase of their strategy.
“I really admire the determination of the Tory Right to help secure a united Ireland.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also reacted to the story, saying: “The sheer moral bankruptcy of the Tory Brexiteers is on full display today.”
Many social media users took to Twitter to attack Ms Patel’s proposal.
One wrote: “Britain trying to starve out Ireland? Where have I heard that one before?”
Another said: “So famine is now Tory Policy?”
And a third wrote: “Would these food shortages in Ireland somehow not reach Northern Ireland?
“I’m not sure that would be very healthy for Our Precious Union.
Ms Patel, a fierce Brexiteers who spoke against a non time-limited backstop in Northern Ireland, has been Secretary of State for International Development until 2017 when she was forced to resign after holding 12 secret meetings in Israel.
Her remarks came after The Times leaked a study showing Ireland would suffer from severe food shortages and see a seven percent from in its gross domestic product (GDP) if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
In turn, the UK would lose 5 percent of its GDP.
The shortage would be the consequence of Ireland’s tight dependance on food imported from Britain.