Northern Ireland news

Gordon Lyons to provide legal advice on decision to halt inspection post work

Gordon Lyons is expected to present his executive colleagues with legal advice on his decision to halt work on inspection posts. Picture by Kelvin Boyes

DUP minister Gordon Lyons is today expected to present his executive colleagues with legal advice on last Friday's decision to unilaterally halt work on inspection posts at the north's ports.

The agriculture minister sparked anger when he announced the latest bid to undermine the protocol that has led to checks on goods arriving from Britain.

Ahead of the South Antrim MLA defending his move in the assembly yesterday, DUP MP Sammy Wilson said his party's ministers would refuse to implement the protocol and warned: "We will fight guerrilla warfare against this."

“We will be challenging the government on a daily basis, telling them to do what they can now to undo the damage done to Northern Ireland,” he told the Irish Times.

In addition to ordering officials to halt work on planned permanent inspection facilities, Mr Lyons also stopped further recruitment of inspection staff and said charges would not be levied at the ports on traders bringing goods across the Irish Sea.

At yesterday's executive meeting, where ministers were expected to approve plans for moving out of lockdown, Mr Lyons is understood to have indicated that he will seek legal advice on Friday's move from Stormont's attorney general and report back today.

When questioned in the assembly, he said the halting of work was ordered to enable him to seek clarity around what will happen when grace periods limiting protocol bureaucracy lapse.

He said he was not going to commit to building structures that might ultimately not be needed.

"We don't know what is going to be expected of us, we don't know what is going to be required but what I am very sure that I want to do is to make sure that we are keeping value for money and the public purse at the top of the agenda and making sure that we can do everything we can to protect the public purse," he said.

Mr Lyons said he wanted to see what solutions the joint EU/UK committee on the implementation of the protocol might agree to address problems facing traders.

"I think it's entirely sensible that as those issues are being discussed, as the joint committee has said that they're going to meet again to discuss some of these issues, that it's only right that we wait and we see what comes out of discussions rather than do work which then might never be needed or required," he told MLAs.

SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said implementing the protocol was a "legal requirement on the members of the executive".

"It is imperative that the protocol is implemented," she said

She said her party had proposed an extension to the grace period and that there was a need for "pragmatic" solutions to any difficulties.

Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer described Mr Lyons' actions as a "political stunt".

He said he asked officials from the minister's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to attend the corresponding scruinty committee on Thursday to discuss last Friday's move.

"It is executive policy to implement the protocol and ministers are duty bound to fulfil their responsibilities to implement it," he said.

"This is an important issue and our farmers, businesses, traders, retailers and workers need certainty on this issue and that will not be provided through stunts."

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