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Agricultural Minister Gordon Lyons has been warmly praised by former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib, a staunch critic of the Northern Ireland Protocol, for recognising that, where the bloc was concerned, actions spoke louder than words. Mr Lyons, a member of the DUP, today confirmed that he had pulled the plug on work to build permanent inspection facilities for post-Brexit checks on agri-food goods arriving from Great Britain.
He has also stopped further recruitment of inspection staff for the port facilities and ordered an end to charges levied at the ports on traders bringing goods from GB into Northern Ireland.
Mr Lyons said: “I’ve just let executive colleagues know that today I instructed my department to halt work on a range of issues relating to work at the ports.
“This is in and around a number of areas, first of all further infrastructure, any further infrastructure builds; the additional recruitment of staff; and also the charging at the ports.”
Mr Lyons said his move was in response to the “practical difficulties” caused by the NI Protocol.
He also voiced concern in respect of the movement of goods when the grace periods currently which current protocol bureaucracy end at the start of April.
He said: “We don’t know what the movement of retail goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland is going to look like, we don’t have the support in place through the digital assistance scheme yet either, and all of the SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) issues around the end of the grace period are just so uncertain and it’s real nightmare for us and it’s going to be causing us an awful lot of problems.”
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Mr Habib commented: “I applaud Gordon Lyons for ceasing the recruitment of inspection staff at port facilities and halting the construction of new permanent inspection facilities.
“There is only one statistic anyone needs to know in order to determine that the Northern Ireland Protocol is bad for Northern Ireland.
“It is this: Over five times as much trade goes between Great Britain and NI than it does between Ireland and NI.
“The correct economic and political location for the customs border is where the border has been for the last 100 years, on the island of Ireland.”
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He added: “Only with actions like this, taken together with a political and legal campaign, to reverse the Protocol will Westminster take heed.
“The Protocol is bad for Northern Ireland, bad for trade with Northern Ireland, bad for Great Britain and bad for the union of the United Kingdom. It should never have been agreed. It should be ditched.”
Ongoing Irish Sea trade checks, which are taking place at existing repurposed port buildings and other temporary facilities, will continue.
Mr Lyons’s decision relates to ongoing work on new purpose-built inspection facilities at ports like Belfast and Larne.
The move comes amid ongoing difficulties surrounding over disruption caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs trade post-Brexit – and which critics said amounts to a border down the Irish Sea.
Unionists are angry at the Protocol’s requirement for checks on many goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
They argue it has driven an economic wedge between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, undermining the Union in the process.
Mr Lyons said his move was in response to the “practical difficulties” caused by the Protocol.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has been fulfilling the UK Government’s legal duty to construct the facilities in accordance with commitments set out in the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Maros Sercovic, the EU Commissioner tasked by President Ursula von der Leyen to negotiate for the bloc, met this week for discussions aimed at resolving the problem, with more planned.
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