In 2021, Edwin Poots, a Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive responsible for DAERA, instructed officials to halt safety checks on agri-food goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
This instruction was not implemented, as officials were told that they had a legal obligation to carry out the checks.
Following further legal advice, Mr Poots has now renewed his instruction, telling officials to discontinue any checks that were not in place on 31 December 2021.
The instruction has been criticized by members of the Irish government (eg: Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney) and by members of the Northern Ireland Executive (eg: Michelle O’Neill, Deputy First Minister)
The legal and diplomatic situation is complex.
Under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Northern Ireland is considered to be part of the EU single market for the purpose of market regulation and part of the Island Of Ireland for the purpose of bio-security.
However, management of the Northern Ireland border is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland government (overseen by EU officials), whilst diplomatic relations with the EU are the responsibility of the UK government in Westminster.
Officials indicate that they are seeking “clarification” from Mr Poots and that, for now, the usual border checks are ongoing. Tweets from BBC show that this is what is happening at the time of writing.
Food traders are advised to continue to comply with all border requirements for now. Traders should note two key points:
- Mr Poots’ instruction does not affect HMRC border requirements – these border procedures remain, whatever happens
- Even if border checks are halted, the need for businesses to comply with the rules remains – omitting this could mean legal liability
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