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Thursday 21 March 2019

'Starve the Irish' threat by Brexit-backing Tory sparks furious backlash

Tory MP and Brexiteer Priti Patel made the suggestion
Tory MP and Brexiteer Priti Patel made the suggestion

A suggestion that the threat of food shortages be used to force Ireland to drop the Brexit backstop has sparked a furious reaction on both sides of the Irish Sea as the British government faces the final days of its hard sell on Theresa May's deal.

A leaked UK report which suggested that Ireland will suffer a GDP drop of 7pc and risks food shortages under a no-deal scenario has been dismissed here.

The report noted that Ireland was a far more open economy than the UK and outlined our vulnerabilities post-Brexit.

Various assessments of the impact on the Irish economy have been laid out by experts since the Brexit referendum, with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe estimating that a "cliff-edge" Brexit would cost at least 40,000 jobs and see GDP fall by around 4pc.

Brexiteer Priti Patel suggested the report should be used to press Ireland to drop the backstop in last-ditch Brexit talks.

But EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan utterly condemned the comments.

He said the UK imported 60pc of its food needs, and 43pc of these came from Ireland, with products very popular with British shoppers.

"If she wants to advocate a policy that brings about the starvation of the British people, this is a good way of going about it," Mr Hogan told the Association of European Journalists.

"I think consumers would be horrified that a senior politician, and former minister, would take such a view of being hostile to the food security requirements of the country they are residing in," he added.

Mr Hogan insisted that, if Mrs May loses next week's vital House of Commons vote on the draft Brexit deal, the EU will "not budge" on the Irish backstop.

Propaganda

He said there had never been such unity among the other 27 EU member states as there had been on the issue of Brexit and Brussels' support for Ireland will remain constant.

The leak, first reported in The Times of London, was dismissed by one senior source as "propaganda" and any view that it would force a renegotiation of the deal was dismissed.

A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said the Government would not be commenting on leaks of "uncertain origin".

The spokesperson said there will be consequences in Ireland, Europe and the UK after Brexit but said "the Irish Government is one of the best prepared and has been planning right across the Government since the original vote, in order to minimise the impact of Brexit".

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also hit out at suggestions that the report could be used as a negotiating tool, stating that the "sheer moral bankruptcy of the Tory Brexiteers is on full display".

The parliamentary arithmetic is stacked against Mrs May, who has dispatched 30 ministers across the UK to win support for the withdrawal deal ahead of next week's vote.

In an effort to boost support, a new amendment has been tabled which would give parliament the capacity to approve a decision to trigger the backstop arrangement or extend the transition period beyond December 2020.

But DUP leader Arlene Foster warned that the amendment would not be enough, tweeting: "Domestic legislative tinkering won't cut it."

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