DUP minister halts construction of Brexit inspection facilities at ports

A sign on the main road on the approach to Larne protesting against the Irish Sea border imposed by Brexit. Picture by Stephen Davison

DUP Agriculture Minister Gordon Lyons has told the PA news agency he has ordered his officials to halt construction of permanent inspection facilities for post-Brexit checks on agri-food goods arriving from Britain.

Agriculture minister Gordon Lyons told PA: "I've just let Executive colleagues know that today I instructed my department to halt work on a range of issues relating to work at the ports.

"This is in and around a number of areas, first of all further infrastructure, any further infrastructure builds; the additional recruitment of staff; and also the charging at the ports."

Ongoing Irish Sea trade checks, which are taking place at existing repurposed port buildings and other temporary facilities, will continue.

Mr Lyons's decision relates to ongoing work on new purpose-built inspection facilities.

Mr Lyons said the move was in response to the "practical difficulties" caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He cited uncertainty over the movement of goods when grace periods currently limiting protocol bureaucracy end at the start of April.

He said: "We don't know what the movement of retail goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland is going to look like, we don't have the support in place through the digital assistance scheme yet either, and all of the SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) issues around the end of the grace period are just so uncertain and it's a real nightmare for us and it's going to be causing us an awful lot of problems."

Mr Lyons's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has been fulfilling the British Government's legal duty to construct the facilities under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement's Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Lyons said his officials have been warning him that the port control posts are unlikely to cope when the grace period exempting retail agri-food goods from EU export health certification ends on March 31.

He said supply chains into Northern Ireland were also unlikely to be able to hold up when the regulatory red tape increases in April.

"The risk to Northern food supply in those circumstances will remain high so there's a lot of practical difficulties with all of this and that's causing us a huge amount of uncertainty," he said.

The minister told PA there was need for the UK and EU to find "permanent solutions" to the issues caused by the protocol.

"It's a real concern to us heading towards the end of the grace period, so we need that certainty from the EU and the UK," he said.

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