Therese Coffey arrives at Number 10 Downing Street, in London. File Reuters
Tom Peck, the Independent
It is early in the year 2016 and I, a much younger man in so many ways, am sitting in a pitch dark windowless room somewhere around Westminster. The only light comes from the lamp of the overhead projector, and standing far too close to it is David Davis, looking like a remake of the I’m The Lephrecaun scene from Wayne’s World.
He’s brought with him a slide that was very popular back in those days, a reworking of the invasion map from the Dad’s Army opening titles, except demonstrating the unstoppable passage to the UK of — you’ve guessed it — cars from Germany, prosecco from Italy and fresh fruit and vegetables from sunny Spain.
This, he was there to explain, is why no harm could ever come from Brexit. Did we seriously think that the German car makers, the Spanish tomato growers, would just slide willingly into penury now that the Brits couldn’t buy their stuff? Of course they wouldn’t.
And now, naturally, great lengths have been taken to explain why, although is no shortage of tomatoes anywhere in Europe apart from the UK, it is definitely nothing to do with Brexit. All the right people have been lined-up to talk about the bad weather in Spain, the bad weather in Morocco being to blame, which it undoubtedly is.
But there’s a difference between a shortage and a famine. A shortage is fine if you’re at the front of the queue. Not so much if you’re at the back. If you’ve only got, say 10 tomatoes to sell, and 100 people who want to buy them, are you necessarily going to seek out the guy who’s suddenly decided to make you fill out a load of utterly pointless forms to do so?
You can find the answer to that question down at your local Asda or Morrisons. Or rather, you can’t, because it’s either not there at all or is subject to rationing.
But though the cause might be complicated, the solution, as ever, is reassuringly simple. Enter Therese Coffey, Liz Truss loyalist who used her vanishingly short amount of time as health secretary to give an interview in which she boasted about how she likes to give out spare antibiotics to friends.
Her next bit of advice has been to get through the tomato shortage by simply eating turnips. Of course, I must personally mourn the return of auto-satirical government, the default ruling mode for almost a full decade now, in which the most effective way to point out their ridiculousness is to type out the words that they’ve said and leave it at that.
Coffey declined to give any specifics on how turnips might be used as a tomato substitute, though the inevitable hangovers such comments will cause should under no circumstances be addressed with one of her signature Bloody Marys.
We can turn, however, to one of the leading recipe books on turnips, namely A Plain Cookery Book For The Working Classes, by the leading Victorian British chef, Charles Elme Francatelli. There you’ll find an excellent recipe for buttered turnips, just as long as you don’t dwell too long on its opening line: “Turnips are mostly given as food to cattle.”
It was also during Ms Coffey’s time as de facto deputy prime minister that she observed that the best way through the cost of living crisis was simply for people to “work more hours” and earn more money, and in some ways it is disappointing that she has not therefore identified the true cause of the tomato shortage — namely, the tomatoes themselves.
“Look”, she frankly should have told Sky News. “The reason there’s no tomatoes is because they’re just not prepared to do the work. The first sign of a bit of cold weather and they just sit there, on the vine, refusing to get any bigger. All I hear is people saying, ‘oh no, the tomato crop has failed’. Well the crop needs to take a look at itself and ask itself why it’s failed. That’s the trouble with these foreign fruits, the moment they get touched by a bit of frost they just wither and die.”
Unsurprisingly, said comments have provided yet another easy day’s work for the especially howling mad wing of the Brexit diehards who have, for seven full years now, been insisting that actually, everything being worse is the whole point of Brexit. That it was always meant to make life harder. That, actually, less choice is good for you. Turnip pizza is what you deserve — now shut up and enjoy it.