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Priti Patel Takes a Break From Dehumanising Migrants to Shout at Ice Cream

Just another hot day in the U.K.

The Ben and Jerry’s logo in America Robert Alexander/Getty Images

What rattles the government? Corporate activism

As the government and U.K. news media focus on small boats of desperate people risking their lives to claim asylum in Britain as a bigger threat than an ongoing viral pandemic, ice cream brand Ben and Jerry’s has rattled home secretary Priti Patel.

The brand, which has a genuinely sustained history of social justice campaigning despite being subsumed by multinational Unilever in the early 2000s, tagged Patel in a series of tweets imploring her, and by extension the Home Office, to show “humanity” to refugees attempting to cross the Channel. While it does have a track record of supporting progressive initiatives, it has also been criticised for its own role in propagating labour malpractice on Vermont dairy farms, which led to it eventually signing a deal enshrining workers’ rights in 2017. It has also been criticised by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign for its selling ice cream in Israeli settlements in Palestine.

Still: does the government need to respond to a sentient ice cream tub? Apparently yes, at length, and sternly:

“Priti is working day and night to bring an end to these small boat crossings, which are facilitated by international criminal gangs and are rightly of serious concern to the British people.

“If that means upsetting the social media team for a brand of overpriced junk food, then so be it.”

Can you feel the freezer burn?

Junk food,” a favourite political totem for Boris Johnson right now; the appeal to the homogeneity of “British people,” despite widespread criticism of both the government’s approach to the refugee crisis and the resultant media coverage, with news crews grabbing ghoulish vox pops from boats while they bail out water.

It’s culture war rhetoric designed for distraction, and as Labour wrings its hands over “getting a grip” on immigration, Ben and Jerry’s will get a response first, because even for a majority government, it’s easier to attack a brand for clout than to justify morally questionable policies to the people who vote politicians in or out.

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