Poots: Sea Border situation could get so much worse – 90% of checks aren’t even happening yet

Farming Minister Edwin Poots says that less than 10% of the Irish Sea border checks which the European Union envisages are actually being carried out.

By Adam Kula
Friday, 14th January 2022, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 14th January 2022, 10:22 am

Mr Poots made the comments to the News Letter as he gave a downbeat assessment of the latest round of UK/EU talks over the NI Protocol, saying he has seen nothing to indicate that Brussels intends to meaningfully shift ground.

It came after a day of talks between Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (the UK’s top Brexit negotiator) and Maros Sefcovic (Brussels’ top diplomat on the topic).

Ms Truss said: “There is a deal to be done that protects peace in Northern Ireland, defends our Union, and maintains the integrity of the United Kingdom and EU.

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Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 18th June 2021 - Loyalist protestors pictured at an anti-protocol rally in Newtownards, Co Down

“But it will require a pragmatic approach from the EU.”

Mr Poots said: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

“But thus far I haven’t seen any significant give in the Brussels position.”

He further warned that, disruptive though the Irish Sea border may appear right now, it is nothing compared to what will be in place if all grace periods are abandoned and the border check workforce is brought up to strength.

Larne Port

“What people need to understand at the outset is, in terms of the protocol, probably we’re operating at less than 10% of the checks that would be applied with the full implementation of the protocol,” he said.

“Because we have provided a very limited resource to do this in the first instance, the EU hasn’t been having the checks they’ve demanded even at this stage, and there’s a considerable shortfall on that.

“They’re entirely minimal to what would happen ifwe had rigorous implementation of the protocol demanded by SF, SDLP, Alliance, etc.

“In that respect, we’re getting a tiny, tiny fraction of what would be expected.”

There are two reasons for this: firstly, “grace periods are a significant element of it”.

And “the other element is we just haven’t put the numbers of people in to fulfil a lot of the checks that have been planned”.

He added: “We’d need many hundreds of people to conduct the checks that are being requested of us by Brussels – many hundreds.

“They have done a report, and the report is pretty clear they’re not happy with what DAERA is currently doing with the checks that are taking place.

“That’s there, and ultimately it’s because these negotiations are still ongoing that they haven’t pushed harder.”

All of this follows on from comments made by Mr Poots last week, in the wake of a document published by Unionist Voice, a group headed by loyalist activist Jamie Bryson.

In it he had argued that, looking at the specific wording of the Good FridayAgreement and its linked documents, the border checks now happening are legally speaking meant to be approved by the whole 12-minister Northern Ireland Executive.

Mr Poots concurred, and said he plans to bring it before the Executive, perhaps by next week, at which point it is expected unionists will veto them.

But even if Sinn Fein tries to block the matter from being discussed, Mr Poots has pledged to end the checks on the grounds that they clash with the law.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said yesterday: “We need to fix the problems in the protocol in order to protect the Belfast Agreement and the peace process.

“The foreign secretary will be putting forward practical and reasonable solutions with a view to agreeing a plan for intensive negotiations.

“We very much believe there is a deal to be done but the EU must show pragmatism.”

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