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Checks for goods between Northern Ireland and Britain not fit for purpose, say EU officials

Simon Coveney held a call with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, as negotiations between the UK and the EU continue.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

EU OFFICIALS HAVE said that the system for checks on goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK is “not fit for purpose”.

The draft report, compiled following an audit carried out by the European Commission in June last year, is highly critical of the current system of agri-food checks and recommends a series of changes.

Officials say the UK Government has “failed to ensure that sufficient resources – human and structural – have been made available to the responsible competent authorities in Northern Ireland”.

Since the UK left the EU, new trade arrangements have created economic barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with the aim being to avoid the creation of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

It has achieved that by effectively keeping Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market for goods, which has led to the checks on products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.

The report is highly critical of the implementation of these checks, noting: “The system is not fit for purpose, does not comply with EU rules and cannot provide sufficient assurances that only compliant animals and goods are permitted to enter the EU SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary] area through the designated border control posts in Northern Ireland.”

Staffing was cited as a major issue, with EU officials bemoaning an insufficient number of “suitably qualified staff so that official controls and other official activities can be performed efficiently and effectively”.

This week, Stormont’s First Minister Paul Givan said his party colleague Edwin Poots will order a stop to the controversial checks after a failed bid to secure the wider approval of the Stormont Executive to continue them.

The anticipated move by the Agriculture Minister has been branded a stunt by other parties in Northern Ireland.

The other Executive parties insist Poots does not have the authority to prevent checks required under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, an international treaty.

Unionist parties and loyalist groups have long been opposed to the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland, arguing that they damage the union between the region and Great Britain.

NI Protocol

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney indicated that he believes there are “landing zones” for a deal on the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Simon Coveney spoke with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss today, as negotiations between the UK and the EU continue over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Late this evening, Coveney tweeted that it was “good to talk” with Truss.

“Work to do, but there are landing zones that allow the protocol to be implemented in a way that responds positively to concerns raised in Northern Ireland.

“Progress on key issues in February is possible if the United Kingdom and European Union work in partnership.”

Truss also tweeted following the meeting.

She said it was important that all sides “work constructively together to find solutions that address the problems in NI and protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement”.

The Foreign Secretary this week expressed her determination to secure a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol that can command universal support in Northern Ireland.

Truss made the comments after meeting with business and political leaders in Northern Ireland on Thursday.

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She said: “What I want is a deal that works for everyone. We are making progress. We’re having constructive talks.

“I want to make significant progress by February. That’s important but it’s important that we secure the support of all of the communities in Northern Ireland, including the unionist community.”

Recent days have seen renewed warnings from the main unionist party, the DUP, that it will walk away from the devolved institutions at Stormont if major changes to the Irish Sea border trading arrangements are not secured.

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