Liz Truss claimed only Irish people hit by Brexit would be ‘a few farmers with turnips’, says ex-diplomat

Former official says minister made dismissive remark during US visit

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 18 May 2022 15:29
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Related video: Liz Truss announces plan to change protocol in ‘coming weeks’

Cabinet minister Liz Truss once claimed that the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Ireland would only affect “a few farmers with turnips in their trucks”, a former UK diplomat has claimed.

Alexandra Hall Hall resigned her diplomatic role in the US in 2019 – saying she no longer wished to “peddle half-truths” on behalf of leaders she did not “trust”.

Responding to the foreign secretary’s plan to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Ms Hall Hall said she was “so pleased to see Liz Truss become a genuine expert on Irish matters”.

The ex-official tweeted: “[Ms Truss] was, after all, the minister who told a US audience three years ago that Brexit would not have any serious impact in Ireland ... it would merely “affect a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks”.”

A source close to Ms Truss said she did not recognise the comments alleged by Ms Hall Hall.

The senior Tory figure visited the US as international trade minister in August 2019, and spoke at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington DC.

Having supported Boris Johnson’s successful campaign for the Tory leadership, she backed his threats to leave the EU without a deal rather than cancelling Brexit altogether.

Ms Hall Hall spent more than 30 years at the Foreign Office before quitting her post at the British embassy in Washington in December 2019 – revealing that she was “dismayed” by the government’s reluctance to be honest about the “trade-offs” from Brexit.

She accused Mr Johnson’s government of downplaying “the consequences of Brexit for the delicate peace process in Northern Ireland” in a 2021 article for the for the Texas National Security Review.

Alluding then to remarks about Irish turnip farmers, the ex-diplomat wrote: “A low point for me was when I heard a senior British minister openly and offensively, in front of a US audience, dismiss the impact of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit on Irish businesses as just affecting ‘a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks’,” she wrote.

Her tweet comes as Ms Truss defended the controversial plan to override parts of the protocol, insisting the action to address the “very severe” situation in the region cannot be delayed.

She told Times Radio: “We haven’t seen the [Northern Ireland] Executive form since February. So we do need to make these changes. And these changes will ... make it better for everyone.”

The foreign secretary also promised that the government would publish its legal position on its plan “very shortly” as she insisted it would be “legal” under international law.

The Republic of Ireland’s deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday that the move to disapply parts of the protocol without an agreement with the EU is “not very respectful” to the British people.

Mr Varadkar pointed out that 59 of the Stormont Assembly’s 90 MLAs do not want to ditch the protocol, and the British public voted for the Brexit deal that is currently in operation.

He told RTE: “If they keep trying to impose on Northern Ireland things that Northern Ireland doesn’t want, that drives more people towards nationalism and away from support for the Union … it just seems a bit puzzling.”

When asked about potential EU retaliation and the possibility of a trade war, Mr Varadkar said the UK would have to “do something” before Brussels takes action.

UK environment secretary George Eustice said speculation about a trade war was “deeply unhelpful” – blaming it on “media hype”.

The cabinet minister claimed there was evidence of a “more measured tone” from Brussels, despite the EU Commission warning that it would use “all measures at its disposal” if the UK changed the protocol without agreement.

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