Northern Ireland executive told government now accepts post-Brexit checks on goods

PUBLISHED: 09:40 14 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:07 14 May 2020

Irish taioseach Leo Varadkar (R) meeting with prime minister Boris Johnson at Thornton Manor in the Wirral, ahead of private talks in a bid to break the Brexit deadlock; PA Archive/PA Images

Irish taioseach Leo Varadkar (R) meeting with prime minister Boris Johnson at Thornton Manor in the Wirral, ahead of private talks in a bid to break the Brexit deadlock; PA Archive/PA Images

PA Archive/PA Images

The UK government has told Stormont officials that post-Brexit custom checks will now be imposed in ports across the region.

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The checks look set to take place at ports in Belfast, Warrenpoint, and Larne at the end of this year, whether or not a deal is struck with the EU, the Guardian reports.

Officials in the Northern Ireland executive were briefed on the matter in a letter sent by the UK government, Northern Ireland junior minister Declan Kearney told a select committee session in Belfast on Wednesday.

“The sum total of that, and without breaching executive confidentiality … [is that the] British government has confirmed it will urgently put in place detailed plans with the executive, which does include the physical posts at ports of entry,” he said.

This goes against advice from the UK’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, who earlier told Northern Ireland businesses that British goods coming into the region would not be subject to customs checks.

Johnson declared that businesses could “throw” any additional customs forms “in the bin”.

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“You’ll be alright,” Johnson said. “There will be no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind. You will have unfettered access.”

The reports come after Downing Street refused a request by the EU to open an office in Belfast to carry out custom checks on the grounds it was ‘politically divisive’. Instead, No 10 recommended EU officials fly in frequently to carry out customs-related business.

The Guardian reports that the checks were agreed between Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Boris Johnson in October at Thornton Manor in the Wirral, England.

Naomi Smith, the chief executive for pro-EU campaign group, Best for Britain, said the latest concessions showed the challenges the government faced upholding frictionless trade between the nations: “The British government made clear commitments that there would be no customs checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.

“By now acknowledging these checks will take place, the government is recognising the challenges it faces to uphold the Northern Ireland Protocol are far more complex they first admitted.

“This issue won’t be an easy one to get right. The government needs time to figure out the right answer - time that has been stolen by coronavirus.”

The Irish Protocol, which sets out ways to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, was an appendage to the Withdrawal Agreement which came into force February 1, 2020.

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