A British Member of Parliament proposes starving Ireland as a negotiating tactic

A British Member of Parliament has proposed starving Ireland as a negotiating tactic.

If this remark were on the historical record for the 1840s, when the British government administered mass starvation in Ireland, it would join the black book of infamy, evidence for the inhumanity of the British establishment.

But last week, Priti Patel, MP for Witham, proposed this:

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 inhumane and (in my view, criminal) logic is that because more than half of Ireland’s total food imports come through the UK, and in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit the collapse in Britain’s international trade would have a catastrophic impact on the Republic of Ireland, the threat of a food crisis could be used to pressure the Irish government into giving concessions to the UK on customs controls on the Irish border.

Patel’s family is of Ugandan-Asian descent and one might have expected her to be literate in the evils of colonialism and dictatorship. She was also lamentably Secretary of State for International Development, and might be expected to be against hunger.

As yet, there is no memorial in London to the victims of the great English famine in Ireland. When such a memorial is constructed, it would be appropriate for Patel to stand in front of it and read out the names of every single individual of those who starved in Ireland.

Alex de Waal is a Research Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and leads the WPF research programs on African Peacemaking and Mass Starvation.

Considered one of the foremost experts on the Horn of Africa, his scholarly work and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, pandemic disease, and conflict and peace-building. His latest book is New Pandemics, Old Politics: Two Hundred Years of War on Disease and its Alternatives. He is also author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine and The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa (Polity Press, 2015) Following a fellowship with the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-06), he worked with the Social Science Research Council as Director of the program on HIV/AIDS and Social Transformation, and led projects on conflict and humanitarian crises in Africa (2006-09). During 2005-06, de Waal was seconded to the African Union mediation team for Darfur and from 2009-11 served as senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009 and is the winner of the 2024 Huxley Award of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Professor de Waal regularly teaches a course on Conflict in Africa at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.  During this course, students should gain a deeper understanding of the nature of contemporary violent conflict in Africa. Students will be expected to master the key theoretical approaches to violence in Africa, and to become familiar with a number of important case studies. The focus is on the origins and nature of violence, rather than policy responses and solutions. The course is inter-disciplinary and involves readings in political science, international relations, and social anthropology, while also touching on economics, environmental studies, and history. 

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