‘Let them eat turnips’: Therese Coffey’s top five most embarrassing moments

Like many of her Tory colleagues, Therese Coffey is well-rehearsed in car crash interviews and awkward blunders. In fact, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, could even be up there with Nadine Dorries in the gaffe notoriety stakes.

We look at Therese Coffey’s five most embarrassing moments.

  1. Forget tomatoes, eat turnips!

The Twittersphere erupted in hysterics this week, after the environment secretary suggested eating turnips to help avoid the fruit and vegetable shortages in UK supermarkets. Speaking to MPs in the Commons, the minister who is in charge of the country’s food supplies, said Britain should “cherish the specialisms” it has and a “lot of people would be eating turnips right now” if they followed the seasonal food model instead of opting for the likes of  lettuce, tomatoes and similar fresh food.

 Needless to say, the comments sparked an immediate pile-up on Twitter.

“Hello @McDonaldsUK are you going to start offering a bacon, lettuce and turnip quarter pounder or do you hate Britain?” posted one user.

“We asked 100 people to name something you use as a pizza topping. You said turnips…” another mocked.

2. The infamous Zoom walkout

It really is quite an achievement to leave the outspoken Piers Morgan lost for words. But Coffey managed to accomplish just that when doing the media rounds as work and pensions secretary in January 2021. When quizzed by then ITV presenter Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid about the country’s Covid-19 death rates, Coffey struggled to defend the government’s response and ended up disconnecting her camera from the interview.

Morgan described the move as being extraordinarily arrogant.

3. ‘We can’t control the weather in Spain’

This week also saw the environment secretary booed by farmers after denying that “market failures” where behind UK food shortages. Coffey ended up in a tense dispute with Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, over the decline of egg production in 2022.

Putting Coffey on the spot during an on-stage interview at the union’s conference in Birmingham, Batters began by saying: “Front page of every newspaper, salad shortages, Asda rationing,” to which the environment secretary butt in: “We can’t control the weather in Spain.” She went on to deny there were any issues with the UK’s markets, claiming: ″We’re not necessarily seeing market failure.”

Batters pointed out that there has been market failure with pigs and poultry, and there had been a billion less eggs in 2022 compared to 2019.

Coffey bizarrely replied: “That’s not necessarily a market failure.”

4. ‘It’s news to me!’

As deputy prime minister under Liz Truss in October 2022, Coffey was set out to bat for the government on a number of pressing issues. As the Bank of England widened its emergency bond buying and warned of a material risk to financial stability, the deputy PM was asked on Sky News about instability on the financial markets. To which she replied: “It’s news to me.”

5. Defends smoking in cars

In another car crash interview on the same day, LBC presenter Nick Ferrari asked the then health secretary why she voted against the outlawing of smoking in cars with children inside. Coffey said: “Probably because I don’t think it is the right to be doing to be telling parents how to handle the situation.”

Not the kind of response you would expect from a health minister.  

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: YouTube screengrab

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