Northern Ireland’s DUP Agriculture Minister Gordon Lyons has ordered his officials to halt the construction of permanent inspection facilities for post-Brexit checks on agri-food goods arriving from Great Britain.
The news, first reported by the PA news agency is the latest act of dissent by Unionists in Northern Ireland against the contentious NI Protocol which governs the province’s relationship with Great Britain and the European Union as outlined in the Brexit deal agreed in December.
The DUP has been vociferously campaigning for the UK government to scrap the protocol and reunify the United Kingdom. It launched a petition at the beginning of the month which now has 142,000 signatures calling for unfettered trade within the UK internal market.
At present under the new Brexit agreement, customs checks are expected to be carried out on agri-foods arriving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, essentially creating a customs border in the Irish Sea.
Legal challenges against the Protocol have commenced from Unionists including senior DUP figures, the architect of the Belfast Agreement, Lord Trimble, former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib and former Labour MP Baroness Hoey.
However, the British government reaffirmed its “full commitment” to the protocol’s “proper implementation” in a joint statement with the European Commission on Wednesday.
This prompted an intervention from the ERG with the faction of hardline Conservative Brexiteers releasing a 38-page report calling for the protocol to be abolished and replaced with its recommended ‘mutual enforcement’ policy which would see both parties agree to voluntarily enforce each other’s rules whilst respecting the sovereignty and integrity of both the EU and UK internal markets.
Tensions continue to rise over the feared separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. Unionists will expect it to be a significant topic of discussion at the next Joint Committee meeting between Lord Frost and Maros Sefcovic in March.
Baroness Hoey called the decision by Mr Lyons to suspend construction of customs checks “absolutely the right move”, adding: “Why should we construct permanent facilities when the Protocol’s legality has not been tested yet in the courts?”