N Ireland orders halt to border checks in new Brexit glitch

Feb 2, 2022, 12:05 PM | Updated: 9:51 pm

LONDON (AP) — Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister on Wednesday ordered a halt to post-Brexit border checks at ports, another complication in a saga that has soured relations between the U.K. and the European Union.

Edwin Poots said he had received legal advice saying he could halt inspections of agri-food products coming from the rest of the U.K. that were imposed as part of Brexit divorce terms. He said he had ordered the checks to stop at midnight — though it was unclear whether civil servants would implement the instruction.

Poots represents the Democratic Unionist Party, which runs Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government with the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein. The DUP opposes the post-Brexit agreement known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, and has threatened to quit the Belfast government rather than implement it — a move that would collapse the power-sharing administration.

Other Northern Ireland parties condemned Poots’ announcement.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein tweeted: “This stunt is an attempt by the DUP to unlawfully interfere with domestic and international law.”

Alliance Party assembly member John Blair accused Poots of “behaving like a wrecking ball” and called for compromise.

Since Britain left the 27-nation bloc in 2020, relations have soured over Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. that shares a land border with an EU member, Ireland. As part of the divorce deal, the two sides agreed to keep Northern Ireland inside the EU’s tariff-free single market for goods to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland — a key pillar of Northern Ireland’s peace process.

That created a new customs border in the Irish Sea for goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. even though they are part of the same country.

The arrangement has brought red tape and supply problems for some businesses, and it has angered Northern Ireland’s British Unionists, who say the checks undermine Northern Ireland’s place in the U.K. and destabilizes the delicate political balance upon which peace rests.

Months of U.K.-EU talks have failed to find a solution, and Britain has threatened to use an emergency break clause to suspend parts of the legally binding Brexit divorce agreement if no solution is found. That would trigger EU retaliation and could spiral into a trade war between the U.K. and the bloc.

The frosty relations have thawed somewhat, with both sides sounding positive in recent weeks that an agreement can be reached.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney accused Poots of “playing politics with legal obligations” and said stopping the border checks would be a breach of international law.

“And I certainly hope that it doesn’t happen,” he said.

___

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N Ireland orders halt to border checks in new Brexit glitch