DUP minister orders halt to Irish Sea border checks
Edwin Poots, DUP Agriculture Minister, ordered his officials to stop Irish Sea border checks on goods on Wednesday 2nd February – however, checks continued on Thursday as Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan resigned.
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.
Later that day the Environment Secretary George Eustice told the House of Commons that the checks were continuing.
On Friday, a Belfast judge issued an interim order suspending Poots’ instruction until a judicial review against the minister’s decision could be heard in full.
The checks form part of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has long been opposed by the DUP. On Thursday afternoon the First Minister Paul Givan resigned.
Before the resignation, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein – who loses her position in the joint office now Givan has resigned – said in a tweet that Poots’ order was “a stunt” and an attempt by the DUP to “unlawfully interfere with domestic and international law.”
EU Commissioner Mairead McGuiness told RTE radio that the move 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 Maros Sefcovic 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.”