Current Agriculture Minister in Northern Ireland (NI) Gordon Lyons has instructed DAERA officials to stop work on the construction of permanent border control facilities at local ports.

The move comes in response to ongoing concerns within Unionism about the operation of the NI Protocol, the agreement reached by the UK and EU as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Under the protocol, NI is within the EU single market for goods, meaning agri-food produce can flow across the Irish border, but various checks are required on goods entering NI from Britain.

In NI, DAERA officials are responsible for sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls (designed to protect EU plant, animal and public health) on products of plant and animal origin.

Other controls relating to customs are mostly online, and falling to HMRC and Border Force.

At present, DAERA officials are working out of temporary facilities at Larne, Belfast, Warrenpoint and Foyle ports, with permanent facilities due to be completed by the summer, at a total cost estimated at around £38m.


Minister Lyons has also told his officials not to recruit any additional staff to undertake checks.

However, with the NI Protocol part of a legally binding agreement between the UK and EU, it is unclear whether he has the legal basis to stop this work, and also whether he would actually require agreement from his executive colleagues.

Under the ministerial code in NI, any matter which is seen as controversial or cuts across two or more Departments requires agreement from the NI Executive.

It is also unlikely that Minister Lyons will be in the agriculture role much longer, with his colleague Edwin Poots set to return in March after stepping down at the start of February for cancer treatment.

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