Northern Ireland

Brexit: PSNI 'won't police customs checkpoints', says chief constable

Simon Byrne
Image caption The chief constable spoke to the PM for 30 minutes on a video call last Friday

The Chief Constable Simon Byrne has told Boris Johnson the PSNI will not police any customs checkpoints on the Northern Ireland border after Brexit.

Mr Byrne had a 30 minute video call with the prime minister last Friday.

He also told Mr Johnson he had "no plans to put police officers on any one of 300 crossings" along the border.

Speaking after a meeting of the policing board in Belfast, Mr Byrne said the PSNI does not want "to be dragged into another type of policing".

Speaking on BBC NI's The View later on Thursday, Mr Byrne said: "At the moment we have no plans to put our police officers in that sort of space [border crossings].

He added: "Obviously, as people would expect, we have a duty to protect people's lives, so if we have intelligence about threats to people from other agencies such as customs or the border force working in a particular place where they are vulnerable to attack, we will send officers to protect them.

"But I think it's on a case by case and intelligence-led basis."

The prime minister submitted his Brexit offer to the EU on Wednesday.

It would see Northern Ireland stay in the European single market for goods, but leave the customs union - resulting in new customs checks.

The PM's Brexit plan also set out details of a replacement for the Irish border "backstop" in the current Brexit agreement.

Image copyright Getty Images

The backstop is the controversial "insurance policy" that is meant to keep a free-flowing border on the island of Ireland but which critics - including the PM - fear could trap the UK in EU trading rules indefinitely.

Under Mr Johnson's proposals, customs checks on goods traded between the UK and EU would be "decentralised", with paperwork submitted electronically and only a "very small number" of physical checks

These checks should take place away from the border itself, at business premises or at "other points in the supply chain"

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Byrne said the PSNI would be obliged to support customs or border force staff if they were under risk of attack

The chief constable has taken legal advice on what he can be asked to do.

Negotiations

Mr Byrne added he did not want "to interfere in negotiations" involving Mr Johnson and the European Union (EU).

Last year, the PSNI was given money to hire 180 extra officers to help prepare for Brexit.

It now wants government funding for 300 more officers next year, as part of a push towards eventually achieving a police service comprised of 7,500.

Officer numbers are currently around 6,800.

The policing board is fully supportive of the PSNI's request for increased staffing.

On Thursday night, Mr Byrne was also asked on The View about Catholic recruitment to the PSNI.

He said he would like to see those numbers increase, along with the numbers of women, working class loyalists and minorities.

"I would be concerned if the number of Catholic officers degraded from the current levels and I can't ignore the risk that that might happen," he said.

"But if we're to be truly representative, in its broader sense, we need to look at positive action for other parts of the community."

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