UK foreign secretary Liz Truss told a US audience three years ago that the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Ireland would only "affect a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks," a former UK diplomat said.
Alexandra Hall Hall, a former Brexit counsellor at the UK embassy in the US, disclosed on Twitter on Tuesday night that Ms Truss made the remarks to a US audience three years ago.
The former career diplomat revealed in an article she wrote in a US academic journal last year that a UK government minister made the remarks but she did not identify the minister at the time.
Last night Ms Hall Hall retweeted a tweet by Ms Truss in which the foreign secretary said the UK government's "first priority is to uphold the Belfast Agreement" – the 1998 deal that underpins the Northern Ireland peace process. Ms Truss shared a link to her House of Commons speech in which she set out plans to introduce legislation to override the Northern Ireland Brexit deal.
Retweeting the message, Ms Hall Hall said: “So pleased to see Liz Truss become a genuine expert on Irish matters. She 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.’”
Ms Truss told the UK parliament that the protocol had put the Belfast Agreement “under strain” because of opposition by Unionist parties, citing this as a reason to plan to introduce new legislation in the coming weeks to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland Brexit deal.
Ms Hall Hall wrote in the Texas National Security Review journal last year that during her time as a diplomat in Washington, DC that Boris Johnson's government damagingly played down the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland's peace process in statements intended for US audiences.
She resigned from her job in late 2019 because she said she was unwilling to “peddle half-truths on behalf of a government I do not trust,” she said in her resignation letter.
In her article last autumn, she described the “turnip” remarks – without naming Ms Truss at the time – as a “low point” of her time in Washington when the UK minister “openly and offensively” in front of a US audience dismissed the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Irish businesses.
Ms Truss, then the UK secretary of state for international trade, was visiting Washington at the time to meet the then US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and the US trade representative Robert Lighthizer, both members of US president Donald Trump's administration, and other politicians.
In the academic article, she said he had become “increasingly dismayed by the way in which our political leaders have tried to deliver Brexit, with reluctance to address honestly, even with our own citizens, the challenges and trade-offs which Brexit involves.”
She took issue in the article – entitled: “Should I stay or should I go? The dilemma of a conflicted civil service – with the UK government’s “use of misleading or disingenuous arguments about the implications of the various options” with Brexit.
The Irish Times sought a comment from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on Ms Truss’s remarks. A source said they did not recognise the comments.
Ms Hall Hall joined the UK foreign office in 1986 and served in various roles around the world, including in Bangkok, New Delhi and Bogota before serving as British ambassador in Georgia.
Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, chairman of the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee, said the comments attributed to Ms Truss were “crass and boorish” and revealed “a breathtaking ignorance of Ireland and Irish affairs”. He called on the UK foreign secretary to withdraw the remarks.
“Ms Truss should arrange to visit Ireland, engage meaningfully with her government counterparts on British-Irish affairs and thereby become more informed,” the former minister for foreign affairs tweeted.