Northern Ireland

Brexit: Clarity needed around border good checks, says Poots

Belfast port

The agriculture minister says he will not submit formal applications for new Brexit-related port infrastructure until he gets more clarity from the UK government on how it will be used.

The BBC has seen a letter from the minister to his Westminster counterpart about border control posts (BCPs).

These are facilities to check goods entering the EU single market.

From 1 January 2021 these will be used to check food and animals arriving from other parts of the UK.

At the end of the Brexit transition period Northern Ireland will effectively stay in single market for goods so new BCPs will be needed.

Officials at Edwin Poots' department have been working with Northern Ireland's ports to assess what facilities will be required.

They were expected to submit that work to Westminster's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who would then formally ask the European Commission to approve the plans.

In his letter to DEFRA Secretary George Eustice, Mr Poots acknowledged there is a legal responsibility to create the BCPs.

However, he added: "I am currently unable to present a full application due to the lack of certainty around a number of key areas including the level of checks required."

Mr Poots then posed a series of questions such as whether major supermarkets could be exempt from checks as "trusted traders" and whether a check of 1% of non-trusted trader goods would be acceptable.

Mr Poots suggested he will only be able to submit the applications when his questions have been answered by the joint committee - the EU-UK body overseeing the implementation of the Brexit deal.

He added that in the meantime his officials would continue to "scope a range of options" and submit further details "once clarity has been received".

The move by Mr Poots will place even greater time pressure on the creation of BCPs.

Last month, the chief vet in the NI Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said the European Commission was expecting details of the BCP plans by the end of June.

Robert Huey said: "That work has to be done, in effect, by 23 or 24 June in order for it to go through a Whitehall process."

Any further delays to BCPs is likely to alarm the EU which had been pressing the UK government to take practical steps to begin implementing the Northern Ireland part of the Brexit deal.