Northern Ireland Protocol: EU doesn’t query Poots’ claim that 90% of customs checks still to come

The European Commission has declined to challenge claims from NI Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots last week that 90% of the proposed checks on goods coming into NI from GB have not even begun yet, under the NI Protocol.
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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 and the EU’s Maros Sefcovic. 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. But it will require a pragmatic approach from the EU.”

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

Agriculture Minister Edwin PootsAgriculture Minister Edwin Poots
Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots
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“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.

“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.

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“They’re entirely minimal to what would happen if we 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, he said,firstly, “grace periods are a significant element of it” while the other is that “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.”

A European Commission spokesman did not in any way challenge his claims, but rather emphasised how important it considers its customs borders to be.

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“We cannot confirm these figures,” he told the News Letter. “The EU takes the integrity of its Single Market very seriously and this is also reflected in the ongoing discussions with our UK counterparts on customs and SPS [plant and animal security] matters.”

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Ben Lowry