Minister accused of breaching international law
Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister, Edwin Poots, issued a unilateral order on Wednesday to end all Brexit checks on food and farm goods from midnight, sparking a potential conflict with the EU and drawing immediate pushback from officials in the Republic of Ireland.
The checks were brought in as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol outlined in the UK’s Brexit deal to prevent the reintroduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and neighboring Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member.
“I have taken legal advice in relation to my position from senior counsel. Earlier today, I received that legal advice. The advice concluded that I can direct the checks to cease in the absence of executive approval,” Poots told the Stormont assembly.
However, his order sparked condemnation from the Irish government, which argued that the order to halt checks would breach international law in light of the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement. Similarly, Sinn Fein, which shares power with Poots’ party, the DUP, claimed it was an unlawful “stunt.”
Responding to the situation, a spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Downing Street had not been informed ahead of time about the DUP’s plan, stating that the checks should remain in place while British negotiations with the EU continue. However, the spokesperson added that “the operation of those checks is a matter for the Northern Ireland executive.”
The UK and the EU have been at loggerheads in recent months over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which essentially creates a border along the Irish Sea. Britain has been frustrated about the arrangement, which requires inspections and document checks for goods moving from mainland UK to Northern Ireland, as the latter remains in effect in the EU’s single market post-Brexit.