Home Secretary and leadership hopeful Sajid Javid has been criticised for describing Ireland as “the tail that wags the dog” on Brexit.
The Tory MP made the comments as the Tory leadership fight heats up, setting out how his plans for an alternative to the Irish backstop.
“I will focus on the one Brexit deal that has already got through parliament – that was the withdrawal agreement with a change to the backstop,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. “[Ireland] is the tail that wags the dog on this and we need to make sure we can do more to build that goodwill in Ireland and build their confidence.”
The comments were seen by many in Ireland as a diplomatic faux pas in the language of Britain’s colonial past.
“Using a term like that is very unfortunate and I would be appealing to representatives in the UK to be mindful of their rhetoric,” Neale Richmond, a Fine Gael senator who chairs the Ireland’s Brexit committee, said.
“We saw that as well in December with [the Tory MP] Priti Patel talking about Britain preventing food imports to Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, in ignorance that we had a major famine here.
“It also feeds into the misconception that somehow Ireland and the EU are separate or we are taking order from masters. We are and have been unified in this process, even if that appears to have taken some people in the UK by surprise.”
Richmond took issue with Javid’s call for the UK to “make a grand gesture to Ireland” by covering all of the costs of creating a “modern, digitised border” between the two countries.
“It’s not about cost. It’s about upholding the legal responsibility as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday agreement by maintaining a seamless border. No realistic digital or technological solutions have been proposed,” Richmond said.
He also criticised another Tory leadership contender, Andrea Leadsom, for describing her Brexit plan as a “managed exit”.
In one sentence Sajid Javid refers to Ireland as ‘the tail that wags the dog’ & the need to build goodwill & confidence in Ireland. Just tremendous diplomacy.
— JPCampbellBiz (@JP_Biz) June 2, 2019
Javid’s remarks sparked some outrage online among Irish political commentators.
“In one sentence Sajid Javid refers to Ireland as ‘the tail that wags the dog’ and the need to build goodwill and confidence in Ireland. Just tremendous diplomacy,” John Campbell, BBC Northern Ireland’s Business and Economics Editor, said.
Matthew O’Toole, a former civil servant who worked at No 10 under David Cameron, said: “Sajid seems to be proposing a reverse Trump: we are not going to build a wall and Ireland’s not going to pay for it … Hmm.”