Border checks have continued at ports in Northern Ireland despite DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots’ instruction to officials to cease on Wednesday night (2nd February), and the First Minister’s subsequent resignation on Thursday.
Poots stated that he had taken legal advice that confirmed he could direct the Sanitary and Photosanitary (SPS) checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain to stop in the absence of Executive approval for them.
On Wednesday night he said: “I have now issued an instruction to my permanent secretary to halt all checks that were not in place on 31st December 2020 from midnight tonight and prepare a paper for Executive consideration in the near future to seek agreement on the way forward.”
On Thursday morning (3rd February) it was not clear whether the checks had stopped, with the Belfast Telegraph reporting that lorries were still being received at a Defra checking facility at Belfast Port.
Speaking to RTE’s Morning Ireland, Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing Northern Ireland, said there were signs that checks were continuing. Manufacturing Northern Ireland has advised members to continue to meet their obligations as usual.
Later on Thursday Environment Secretary George Eustice told the Commons that checks were continuing as normal.
First Minister resigns
The checks form part of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has long been opposed by the DUP. On Thursday afternoon Northern Ireland’s First Minister Paul Givan resigned as part of that protest.
EU Commissioner Mairead McGuiness told RTE radio that the move to stop checks was a breach of international law and “extremely unhelpful.” She said: “We’re working tirelessly to find solutions with the United Kingdom to specific problems and indeed have put forward very specific details.”
McGuinness confirmed that she would be speaking to UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and the European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič about the matter later on Thursday. Last month Truss said that any decision on stopping the inspection of goods would be “a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein, which runs the power-sharing government with DUP, said in a tweet that Poots’ order was “a stunt” and an attempt by the DUP to “unlawfully interfere with domestic and international law.” O’Neill will also lose her position now that Givan has resigned from the joint office.