Poots: Days of Irish Sea border checks are now numbered – and SF won’t stop me

Farming minister Edwin Poots has confirmed he now believes checks on goods entering the Province from GB are unlawful, and has pledged that their days are numbered.

By Adam Kula
Thursday, 6th January 2022, 5:55 pm
Updated Friday, 7th January 2022, 10:39 am

Mr Poots made the comments today in the wake of a report from a group called Unionist Voice Policy Studies, which purported to map out a legal path to killing off the Protocol.

The Unionist Voice group is led by loyalist activist Jamie Bryson, and the report consisted of a set of arguments about how the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 Northern Ireland Act, and the Stormont Ministerial Code can all be harnessed as ways of combatting the Irish Sea border.

The News Letter has set out the exact arguments in detail online, but in very simple terms, the Unionist Voice report (which was compiled by Mr Bryson with help from several anonymous lawyers and academics) said this:

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Graffiti warning against an Irish Sea border at Larne port

The text of the 1998 Act indicates that the regular meetings of Stormont’s 12 Executive ministers must “provide a forum for the discussion of, and agreement on,

issues which cut across the responsibilities of two or more ministers”.

In addition it says that the Executive meetings should also “have the function of discussing and agreeing ... any significant or controversial matters” which fall outside of the Executive’s main budgeted programme for government.

All this is then re-stated in the text of the Ministerial Code that governs the behaviour of ministers.

In short, Mr Bryson has presented a kind of legal double-whammy: namely, that the Protocol is both “cross-cutting” and “controversial”, and therefore in either one of these cases the Executive is obliged to discuss it – at which point unionist ministers could veto the checks.

Mr Poots said relatively little about the report on Wednesday.

Then today he told the Nolan Show “we need to have the support of the Executive to implement the port checks”.

Mr Nolan pointed out that Sinn Fein is pledging to block any attempt to put such a discussion on the agenda of the upcoming Executive meetings (more details below left).

“Not allowing it onto the table won’t stop me carrying out my responsibilities – which would be to stop the checks in association with the law as defined in the Belfast Agreement,” he replied.

“It would appear to us we need to have Executive support to continue to carry out the checks, therefore that will go to the Executive.

“In the absence of that coming forward, we’ll make that decision.”

Asked whether that decision means stopping the checks outright, Mr Poots replied: “That is the case... I need the support of the Executive to carry the checks out.

“In the absence of Sinn Fein putting it on the table then the checks would stop.”

Having earlier said he will bring the issue of the Protocol before the Executive by the end of the month, he today said it will in fact probably be within a week to 10 days.

Mr Poots had come under fire throughout most of last year because the checks which have been carried out on food and farm goods entering Northern Ireland from GB (beginning last January) were being performed by his own staff in Belfast, Larne, Warrenpoint and Foyle, as well as Belfast International Airport.

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