Customs checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain
Northern Ireland is operating different regulatory and customs arrangements to the rest of the UK.
Under the terms of the Brexit deal, the region is remaining in the EU Single Market for goods and applying EU customs rules at its points of entry – Belfast Port, Larne Harbour, Warrenpoint Port, Foyle Port, and Belfast International Airport.
Customs declarations and extra checks are now required on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but trade in the other direction remains largely unfettered.
Under the Northern Ireland protocol, all goods passing from GB to NI are subject to EU customs rules, with sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks applied to 100 per cent of food entering the region.
Chilled meat: Sausages and other chilled meats, which are on that banned list, were granted a specific six-month grace period to enable their import from GB to continue until June, using temporary certificates.
Parcels: There is also a three-month grace period that means the majority of parcels sent to Northern Ireland from GB do not need customs declarations. Again, that is due to change in April.
Retail goods: Goods from certain food suppliers, such as supermarkets and their trusted suppliers, can enter Northern Ireland from Great Britain. They should benefit from a grace period, through to 1 April 2021, from official certification for products of animal origin, composite products, food and feed of non-animal origin and plants and plant products.
They must also be destined solely for sale to end consumers in supermarkets located in Northern Ireland, and they cannot be sold to other operators of the food chain.
Sanitary and phytosanitary checks: Goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain are subject to EU controls to protect animal, plant or public health. Customs staff may make documentary, identity or physical checks at points of entry.
Regulated plants and plant products include ‘all plants for planting, root and tubercle vegetables, most fruits, cut flowers, seeds, leafy vegetables, second hand machinery which has been used for agricultural, forestry, horticultural or soil preparation/cultivation purposes and wood, wood products, bark and wood packaging material’, it adds.
Medicine: In regard to the movement of medicines from GB to NI, there is a 12-month grace period in place, with new regulatory processes due in 2022.
The protocol will also put restrictions on the movement of pets between GB and NI, including the need for rabies vaccines. Those restrictions will come into place in the summer.
Travelling with pets: Any person travelling from Northern with a pet to Britain and returning to NI, will be required to adhere to the EU requirements for travelling into the EU/NI from a Part II listed country.
If travelling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and not returning to NI, with your pet, there are no documentary or health preparations, though there is a law requiring dogs are microchipped at eight weeks old.
Soaring tensions in Northern Ireland over Brexit have sparked the British government’s anger at the EU today, and demands for the trade rules between Britain and the province to be relaxed.
Checks at Northern Irish ports on goods travelling between Britain and the province were suspended yesterday after anonymous threats from hardline loyalists were sent to EU and UK customs officials.
But although police say paramilitaries were not involved, tensions in the province are set to get worse as post-Brexit grace periods end and stop some goods from Britain entering Northern Ireland at all.
Michael Gove will meet European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic tonight to demand several post-Brexit grace periods are suspended.
Currently all parcels entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain will be subject to customs checks from April and sausages and other chilled meat imports must meet EU standards from June.
All other goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain are currently subject to EU customs checks.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office will urge the EU to ditch a technical and legalistic approach to the protocol and to ask for extra time to resolve problems.
He warned that if solutions were not found, the government would consider using ‘all instruments at its disposal’ – comments that raise the prospect of a unilateral move to suspend aspects of the protocol.
The loyalist threats centered on three customs checkpoints at the Northern Irish ports of Larne, Belfast and Warrenpoint where EU officials oversee checks that goods entering Northern Ireland have customs declarations and can enter the EU’s single market.
That has led to disruption with some businessmen claiming that ‘forms which a fortnight ago took 15-20 minutes now take 3-4 hours’.
The frontier checkpoints are manned by UK Border Force officials and their checks are overseen by EU officials on a rotating list of member states.
It comes amid fury at the EU for threatening on Friday to suspend the post-Brexit trade agreements in an attempt to stop coronavirus vaccines travelling from Ireland to the UK.
The European Commission’s proposal on export controls last Friday would have struck at the heart of the protocol’s main function – to facilitate a free-flowing Irish border – by placing restrictions on vaccines moving into Northern Ireland from the bloc.
The threat by Brussels united Britain and Ireland in condemnation of the EU for appearing to undermine its commitment to the Good Friday peace agreement.
However, the episode has inflamed the anger of loyalist elements who are unhappy at customs checks on goods coming from Britain to Northern Ireland, which has caused shortages and is viewed as the erection of a hard border in the Irish Sea.
Many unionists and loyalists are against the protocol because they believe it has created an economic barrier between the region and the rest of the UK, undermining the constitutional integrity of the Union.
Anti-Brexit graffiti opposing ‘a border in the Irish Sea’ has appeared across the province recently, including on the front of the offices of local politicians.
Masked UVF men were also caught on video putting on a ‘show of strength’ in East Belfast yesterday – although police say this was related to an ‘internal UVF dispute’ and not directly linked to the Brexit issues.
At the Northern Ireland points of entry:
- UK and Northern Irish customs officials overseen by EU officials on rotation from different member states ask hauliers arriving from Great Britain what they are transporting;
- The hauliers are asked to present certificates proving they are destined for Northern Ireland;
- UK officials then inspect goods, ensuring they meet EU standards even though Northern Ireland, though part of the EU’s single market, is not a member state of the EU;
- Many delays are caused by UK customs officials checking 100 per cent of plant-based products, including fruits and vegetables, and in particular ensuring they are free of ‘diseases and pests’;
- Machinery used for agricultural, horticultural or soil preparation, such as diggers, are also checked to ensure they meet EU standards. This has seen diggers which have traces of British soil turned round and prevented from crossing into Northern Ireland;
- Hauliers who are providing goods from supermarkets and their trusted suppliers benefit from a grace period until April 1, 2021 from official certification for animal products, but must ensure the goods are destined for sale to consumers in supermarkets in Northern Ireland.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson today promised Arlene Foster the UK Government will ‘do everything we can’ to make trade to Northern Ireland smoother as he demanded the EU take ‘urgent action’ to relax checks on goods.
He spoke to the First Minister of Northern Ireland this morning amid a worsening row over post-Brexit customs checks which has seen loyalists threaten port workers.
Mr Johnson’s comments came ahead of a crunch meeting this evening between Mr Gove, Mr Sefcovic, Mrs Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill to discuss the furore over post-Brexit trade checks.
A leaked letter from Mr Gove to Mr Sefcovic sent ahead of the meeting revealed he told his EU counterpart the bloc had made a ‘grave error’ and that it had ‘profoundly undermined the operation of the protocol and cross-community confidence in it’.
Mr Gove called for a waiver for traders moving goods between Northern Ireland and Britain to be extended to January 2023 to ease disruption, according to The Telegraph.
Mrs Foster earlier claimed problems at the border were being caused by British officials implementing customs checks ‘to the Nth degree’.
The DUP leader also hit out at EU demands, arguing that the checks went far beyond the phytosanitary vetting to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases and pests, giving an example of potatoes with British soil on being blocked at the border by officials.
She told the Telegraph: ‘One of the most offensive things, I have to say, for a lot of us here in Northern Ireland is that we’re told that soil from Great Britain cannot make its way across the Irish Sea over to Northern Ireland.
‘So if you’re buying, for example, seed potatoes, well, that’s a real problem because the seed potatoes may have British soil on it and you can’t possibly bring that into Northern Ireland.’
DUP MP Gavin Robinson told MailOnline he did not believe that customs checks had intensified since the EU vaccines row last week, but said that officials at the ports ‘start from a high bar‘.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney today argued ‘Brexit is the problem that is causing all of this disruption’ but added: ‘Of course we are looking for ways in which the protocol can be implemented with less friction.’
The Northern Ireland was designed to maintain the principles of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and Northern Ireland’s open border with Ireland by keeping the region in the UK’s customs territory and the EU’s single market.
In practice, it has led to delays and in some cases the ceasing of trade in some everyday goods originating in Britain.
UK Border Force officials check goods coming into Larne Port in Northern Ireland from GB
In East Belfast, a band of masked men paraded through Pitt Park in daylight in a show of strength linked to rising tensions – though this is an ‘internal UVF dispute’
Graffiti on the A2 outside Carrickfergus in Belfast
Menacing graffiti has been sprayed on the offices of local politicians, with Alliance MP Stephen Farry tweeting a photo of graffiti on his constituency office reading ‘RIP GFA’ – a likely reference to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement brokered to end The Troubles
His colleage Kellie Armstrong, the Alliance MLA for Strangford, tweeted a photo showing the words ‘stay out’ sprawled over her office window
How ‘parody’ Northern Ireland customs rules are giving hardworking Britons a headache
Lorry carrying frozen carrots and mixed herbs waits for EIGHT DAYS to board a ferry to Northern Ireland ‘because of missing paperwork’
Peter Summerton, of McCulla Refrigerated Transport, said: ‘It’s absolutely criminal what has been allowed to happen’
A lorry carrying frozen carrots and mixed herbs has been waiting for clearance to board a ferry from Birkenhead to Belfast for eight days.
Six separate customers, supermarkets and corner stores have other consignments on truck, all stuck in Lymm because the paperwork for a single pallet of carrots is missing key information.
A report by the Guardian reveals that in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, the haulage firm’s operations team have had no luck in persuading the British supplier that the carrots ordered on December 27 are now classed as an export.
They are supposed to be accompanied by a litany of documents and certificates before the trailer can be cleared to board the ferry at Birkenhead.
One operations man, also dealing with an order of mixed fish also stuck in England, said: ‘It took half a day yesterday for me to clear the supply chain. I’ve got one more issue to go.
Peter Summerton, managing director of McCulla Refrigerated Transport, said: ‘It’s absolutely criminal what has been allowed to happen between these two islands that have traded with each other for so long.’
Scottish potato seed merchant banned from exporting spuds to Northern Ireland or the EU ‘is losing £125,000 per year in trade’
Iain Barbour, who manages family-run JBA Seed Potatoes, is apoplectic that it is now illegal to send seed potatoes to any EU country or Northern Ireland
A potato seed merchant who has been banned from exporting potatoes to Northern Ireland could lose up to £125,000 per year in trade.
Iain Barbour, who manages family-run JBA Seed Potatoes, is apoplectic that it is now illegal to send seed potatoes to any EU country or Northern Ireland.
The business at Rosefield Farm, Annan, is the current world record holder for the highest number of different potato varieties on offer, at 667.
Mr Barbour told the Daily Record: ‘Value wise its about £75,000 to £125,000 of business we will not be able to service anymore.
‘There is no way around it as all seed potatoes must now be accompanied by a plant passport. All my passports are GB only so they are not valid anywhere else at the moment.’
Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive at Scottish Land & Estates, said: ‘Most within the Scottish farming and food sectors will view the trade deal with the EU as positive news at a time when the risk of a no deal Brexit was edging closer.’
Digger ‘banned from entering Northern Ireland for having soil on its tracks’ due to rules on British soil being brought to province
Seamus Leheny of Logistics UK said a business bringing machinery back from Great Britain was barred because ‘there was soil on the tracks of the digger’
Strict rules around British soil being brought into Northern Ireland has seen a digger banned from entry, it has emerged.
Seamus Leheny of Logistics UK said a business bringing machinery back from Great Britain was barred because ‘there was soil on the tracks of the digger’.
‘The digger wasn’t allowed to come to Northern Ireland until it was fully power-washed and cleaned,’ he claimed.
‘My understanding is that the digger was inspected and soil was found beneath the mat, and that had to be cleaned out.’
Mr Leheny said it is an issue which must now be considered by the UK-EU Joint Committee. The checks are understood to have been carried out by Daera officials.
He also called Dublin port a ‘minefield for trucks arriving from GB’, telling the BBC: ‘One Northern Ireland operator had two loads arrive on Tuesday night and only got released at 22:30 GMT on Thursday night.
‘For over 48 hours the drivers were left living in the vehicles with operators incurring costs by the hour.’
Colin Holmes, a specialist haulier handling second hand agricultural machinery, told the News Letter that for years there had been a requirement to wash farm equipment before bringing it into Northern Ireland.
However, visual inspections have now become more onerous and bureaucratic – and that was pushing up prices. He said that it was now necessary to obtain a new ‘wash certificate’ with each item of machinery there is ‘a wee bit of leeway on it at the minute, that’s coming to an end’.
Guidelines published on the department’s website state ‘second hand machinery which has been used for agricultural, forestry, horticultural or soil preparation/cultivation purposes’ is part of ‘regulated plants and plant products’ requiring Phytosanitary Certificates from Great Britain confirming it is ‘free from relevant pests and diseases’. Anyone buying such machinery must register as an ‘importer’ with the EU.
TUV leader Jim Allister described the situation as ‘beyond parody’.
Scampi brand warns border delays are ‘starting to bite’ as seafood industry faces delays and increased costs over customs rules
Scampi brand Whitby Seafoods has claimed that the customs rules hurt companies who are reliant on fresh-caught fish to be moved seamlessly between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Stock photo used
Customs rules requiring British businesses to notify customs in advance of moving goods across the Irish Sea are ‘really disadvantaging’ fish suppliers.
Scampi brand Whitby Seafoods has claimed that the customs rules hurt companies who are reliant on fresh-caught fish to be moved seamlessly between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Its sales and marketing director Laura Whittle told the Grocer that there are fears if a load is rejected at the border, the company could lose ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds’.
‘Customs have a requirement that they will have full visibility of the load we’re bringing across by 10am the day it’s being brought over [to Northern Ireland],’ she said.
‘Our scampi tails are still in the water then. We bring them across at 11pm, so they’re not even caught [by 10am]. It’s fresh food, so there’s a very fast turnaround. We don’t want that product out of the water a long time before it’s processed and frozen because it could deteriorate.’
She added that all of Whitby’s scampi was processed at Kilkeel, County Down, before being frozen, because two-thirds of the langoustine Whitby derives scampi from was landed in Northern Ireland. Once processed, the product is then transported back to its North Yorkshire base for distribution.
‘Weakened by Covid-19, and the closure of the French border before Christmas, the end of the Brexit transition period has unleashed layer upon layer of administrative problems, resulting in queues, border refusals and utter confusion,’ said Donna Fordyce, CEO of Seafood Scotland.
Alliance councillor in Bangor, Connie Eagen, posted an image of graffiti on a wall which read: ‘Banger says no to Irish Sea border’
A Unionist poster against a possible UK internal border is attached to a post at the Port of Larne in County Antrim on February 2, 2021
Michael Gove (left)and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic will hold a virtual meeting with First Minister Arlene Foster to ease growing tensions
Boris Johnson promised Arlene Foster the UK will ‘do everything we can’ to make trade to Northern Ireland smoother as he demanded the EU take action to relax checks on goods
What is ‘last resort’ Article 16 and why did the EU threaten to invoke the ‘nuclear option’ last week?
Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol allows either the EU or the UK to override part of the Brexit trade agreement in relation to border controls in Northern Ireland.
The protocol itself was designed to avoid a re-emergence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
But in the deal, both parties agreed to a get-out clause, which could be used if the protocol was thought to be causing ‘serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties’.
However the EU threatened to invoke the clause, to put measures on vaccines coming from the EU to Northern Ireland.
The move was introduced during a huge row between the UK and EU over vaccines supplies, with Brussels accusing the UK of ‘hijacking doses’.
The row started after Oxford vaccine maker AstraZeneca announced it would not be able to supply as many vaccines as it had first hoped to the EU by Spring.
It exploded last Friday when Brussels said it would trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – thereby creating a hard border on the island of Ireland – and take other measures to stop supplies of the Pfizer vaccine from reaching Britain.
The aim of this move will be to prevent the possibility of the UK bringing vaccines into Northern Ireland ‘through the backdoor’, by using the controls-free border to bring in vaccines from the EU.
Boris Johnson called an emergency meeting at No 10 to decide the UK’s response, then spoke to the Commission President just before 10pm to set out his demands and warn EU chief Urusal von der Leyen her actions could threaten the Irish peace process.
They spoke again at 10.30pm when Ms von der Leyen agreed to issue a climbdown message that ‘there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities’.
Asked about the threats to staff at ports, Mr Coveney told Newstalk radio: ‘Of course it is a worry and the safety of staff must come first and that is what happened yesterday.
‘I think there is some uncertainty as to the level of threat there, certainly the PSNI have confirmed that this does not involve loyalist paramilitaries.
‘But clearly there is a lot of tension and Friday didn’t help that when the commission made a serious mistake by signalling an intention to trigger Article 16 of the protocol. That should not have happened.’
The DUP yesterday announced a series of political moves aimed at undermining the protocol.
Its strategy includes opposing any protocol-related legislation at the Stormont Assembly and refusing to participate in any exchanges with the Irish Government related to the operation of the protocol.
Sinn Fein described the DUP’s attempts to undermine the Northern Ireland Protocol as ‘reckless’.
The European Commission swiftly backtracked after facing intense criticism for attempting to hinder the free flow of movement across the Irish border in respect of vaccines.
At ports in Belfast, Larne and Warrenpoint, customs staff were withdrawn following Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s concerns over the safety of 12 workers.
They had been the recipients of ‘sinister and menacing behaviour’, including graffiti which described port staff as ‘targets’.
A spokesperson for Daera told MailOnline that the suspension of customs checks by border staff remains in place, saying: ‘The Department continues to liaise with the PSNI and other partner organisations in considering when physical checks may resume. Any decision will be based upon a formal threat assessment.’
The PSNI are to hold talks with border agencies and the Northern Irish government later today about the physical Brexit checks that have been in place since January 1.
‘The safety of staff working at points of entry is of the utmost importance to us,’ said PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan. ‘Where we have any credible information we will share that with our partners and take appropriate action.
‘We have increased patrols at Larne Port and other points of entry in order to reassure staff and the local community.’
MP Stephen Farry told PoliticsHome: ‘The threats against staff doing their jobs around checks at the port of Larne are totally unacceptable. We stand in solidarity with staff who are only doing their jobs.
Boris Johnson threatens to override Brexit deal to prevent a border in the Irish Sea
Boris Johnson during PMQs today
Prime Minister Boris Johnson today said he is willing to override part of the Northern Ireland Protocol to ensure that there is no post-Brexit trade barrier down the Irish Sea.
DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said his constituents had been made to feel like foreigners in their own country.
Urgent action from the European Union is needed to resolve the problems, Boris Johnson acknowledged.
The agreement on post-Brexit trade to keep the Irish land border open has caused disruption to goods travelling from the rest of the UK but progress has been made in recent weeks.
Mr Johnson said: ‘We will do everything we need to do, whether legislatively or indeed by triggering Article 16 of the protocol, to ensure that there is no barrier down the Irish Sea.’
Article 16 is part of the post-Brexit deal which keeps Northern Ireland following the EU’s customs rules.
It is designed to allow the EU or Britain to intervene unilaterally if the protocol is causing a major problem within its borders.
The Democratic Unionists have been pressing for it to be invoked in response to strains on east to west trade which emptied some supermarket shelves temporarily following the end of the post-Brexit transition period and interfered with the transit of parcels.
Mr Paisley told the House of Commons: ‘Prime Minister, you say that your commitment to Northern Ireland is unshakeable.
‘But I speak for all of my constituents today when I tell you that the protocol has betrayed us and has made us feel like foreigners in our country.
‘Tea and sympathy will not cut the mustard.’
The Prime Minister spoke to Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster on Wednesday morning.
A Downing Street spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister said that we needed urgent action from the EU to resolve outstanding problems with protocol implementation, so as to preserve the gains of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and to ensure that Northern Ireland benefits in full from the UK’s exit from the EU.’
They discussed their shared concern that processes established in the protocol were ignored when Brussels threatened on Friday to override part of the deal and stop coronavirus vaccine supplies crossing the border from the Republic.
The Prime Minister told Mr Paisley: I utterly share the frustration of the honourable gentleman about the way the EU, in particular, the EU Commission, temporarily seemed to call to use the protocol in such a way as to impose a border contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, and contrary to the letter of the Good Friday Agreement.’
The Prime Minister urged that coordinated work with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove continues to ensure the protocol worked in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.
A DUP spokesman for Mrs Foster said Mr Johnson had indicated he wanted to resolve the outstanding issues by the end of next month.
‘The Prime Minister indicated that he was deeply shocked ‘by the cavalier approach adopted by the EU’ last Friday and without consultation,’ the party statement said.
‘He recognised that such actions by the EU undermines the authority of the protocol.’
The DUP added that it was plain the protocol was being used in an ‘absurd’ way.
Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was time for steady, calm and measured leadership from all political parties amidst unionist discontent.
‘Our businesses and citizens deserve certainty and I am committed to working to provide that.’
‘People need to dial down the rhetoric around the Protocol. The rule of law must be maintained’.
The DUP has been vociferous in its opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol’s operation. The party’s North Antrim MP Ian Paisley condemned the threats to staff but said the protocol was ‘bound to cause these problems’. ‘Such tactics have no place in a democracy,’ he said.
‘This is the sad reality of those who imposed terms on Northern Ireland without the consent of the delicate community balance which exists here. The protocol was bound to end in tears and here we have society’s structure falling apart.
‘When (former Irish premier) Leo Varadkar shamefully distributed copies of border posts being blown up in Newry 30 years ago around EU Commission members, he demonstrated that violence and the threat of violence has a seat at the table.
‘At the heart of progress in Northern Ireland has been cross-community consent. Those who thought they could impose something against the will of every unionist are now reaping the seeds of division they have sown.
‘The protocol was bound to cause these problems given the triumphant approach by republicans and nationalists and the wilful ignorance that 50 per cent of the population was opposed to the protocol.’
Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim, said: ‘The fettering of trade between GB and NI has now regrettably led to threats against staff at both Larne and Belfast Ports. These threats must be condemned without equivocation and I welcome support from all parties to withdraw staff.’
Louise Haigh, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said the threats were ‘deeply disturbing and completely unacceptable’ and that ‘these workers – all workers – have a right to work free from fear’.
She said: ‘There is simply no justification for threats and intimidation. Calm is now needed and everyone has a responsibility to dial down the rhetoric and ensure the safety of people in Northern Ireland’.
Outgoing Stormont minister Edwin Poots said ‘it is a time for calm heads and a time for wise behaviour’ as he warned the protocol had ‘certainly created a lot of tension in the community’.
The senior Democratic Unionist, who stepped down at midnight ahead of undergoing cancer treatment, said: ‘Ultimately the people who are doing their jobs, who are going to their work, are not their enemies.
‘They are people who are simply carrying out a job, whether it is the Department of Agriculture, the local council or Food Standards Agency.’
The former agriculture minister added: ‘Those people should be allowed to do their jobs in peace. Any threat against them should be withdrawn and allow people to carry on their duties.’
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Peter Johnston, said: ‘We have seen what I would describe as deeply troubling graffiti and a very notable upping of community tensions towards the NI Protocol, particularly in recent days.
‘The health and wellbeing of our staff is always this Council’s number one priority and that is why the decision has been taken to withdraw them from their work at the Port with immediate effect until we have very real assurances and full confidence that they can go about their duties without fear, threat or concern for their wellbeing.’
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said in a statement: ‘Trade unions on behalf of Council members of staff assisting with checks at the Port have raised serious concerns around the safety of staff and have sought reassurance on what measures are in place to keep staff safe.’
Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan of the PSNI told MailOnline: ‘I am concerned about signs of tension within the community in recent weeks. We’ve seen graffiti at various sites and other forms of intimidation on social media. Our investigations into these incidents are ongoing.
‘In relation to an anonymous piece of information claiming paramilitary involvement in threats, I have briefed partners that we have no information to substantiate or corroborate these claims at this time.
‘Keeping people safe is our priority and the safety of staff working at points of entry is of the utmost importance to us.
‘We will continue to work closely with our partners to provide them and their staff with support. We have increased patrols at the points of entry in order to reassure staff and the local community.’
In a sign of growing tension, masked men with suspected ties to the UVF marched through East Belfast in a show of force and intimidation, local media reports.
The scene was condemned by politicians across the spectrum, with MP Gavin Robinson saying that ‘over the last couple of weeks, there has been a number of worrying incidents in East Belfast’.
‘Homes attacked, families intimidated and our community living in fear,’ he said. ‘Today we saw a severe escalation of that in Pitt Park. It has to stop. East Belfast deserves better. The PSNI need to get a grip and show such action will not be tolerated.’
Sinn Fein Group Party Leader on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Councillor James McKeown, said: ‘Our staff will step away from this work and will only return when we are totally satisfied it is safe and right for them to do so.
‘There are simmering tensions within the local community at present and we will not stand by and let our staff be targeted when they are just doing their jobs.’
Justice Minister Naomi Long told MailOnline: ‘The footage yesterday of a masked gang walking through Pitt Park in East Belfast has both shocked and disgusted me.
An anti-Brexit sign near the entrance to Larne Port in Northern Ireland
Animal and food product inspections at Northern Ireland’s Belfast and Larne ports were stopped ‘with immediate effect’ last night over safety fears for staff
The decision came after a local council agreed to remove 12 of its staff at Larne port due to ‘an upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour in recent weeks’
A police investigation was launched after the words ‘all border post staff are targets’ (pictured) appeared spray painted on a wall in Larne, County Antrim, on Thursday
Last month graffiti appeared near to the ports, with one message saying ‘No Irish sea border’ and another ‘Ulster sold out!’
Michael Gove will hold crisis talks TODAY to urge Brussels to relax trade rules between Britain and Northern Ireland following loyalist threats at ports
Michael Gove will hold a meeting with EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill later today
Michael Gove is set to hold crisis talks with Brussels’ chiefs and Northern Ireland leaders today in a bid to defuse growing tensions in the wake of last week’s vaccine exports fiasco.
Mr Gove and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic will hold a virtual meeting with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill to discuss the ongoing furore over post-Brexit trade checks.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office is expected to push for trading rules between Britain and Northern Ireland to be relaxed.
Mrs Foster and senior DUP colleagues held a separate virtual call with Boris Johnson this morning ahead of the early evening engagement with Mr Gove and Mr Sefcovic.
It comes amid rising anger at the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol which was agreed in the Brexit divorce deal and which requires regulatory and customs checks on goods entering the region.
‘Our communities have had enough of the intimidation and the fear that they create. This is yet another example of the coercive control these gangs seek to impose on communities and we must all work together to ensure that we disrupt their activity and end the harm that they perpetrate on families and communities including young and vulnerable people.’
A PSNI spokesperson said: ‘Police responded to reports of suspicious masked men in the vicinity of the Newtownards Road in east Belfast, on Tuesday 2nd February. Officers attended and enquiries are continuing.’
In North Belfast last night, Danny McClean – who had links to dissident republicans – was gunned down by violent extremists outside McGrath’s Bar last night.
He had been lured to a meeting and had been staying in a nearby bail hostel having been freed on remand last year.
Police had warned him he was under threat in February 2019 when graffiti appeared around west Belfast naming him as a ‘tout’ after ONH leaders learned of his British Army past, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the killing and sent her condolences to Mr McClean’s family. Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill told the BBC: ‘At the heart of that is going to be a grieving family who lost a loved one last night and our thoughts are very much with the family.
‘The police will have a job of work to do. This is not something that is acceptable at any level in our society and I think that anyone with information should come forward to the PSNI and assist with the investigation.’
Belfast’s Deputy Lord Mayor Paul McCusker condemned the shooting. ‘This is horrific news for a family to receive and the community is rightly shocked,’ he said.
‘Those responsible for this shooting have absolutely nothing to offer our community. Local residents should be allowed to live their lives without the threat of violence.’
‘The community does not support these actions. There is no place for violence on our streets.’
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Montgomery said: ‘We received a report around 8.15 pm, that a man had been shot in the Cliftonville Road area of the city.
‘Officers attended, along with colleagues from NIAS. Sadly, a man has been pronounced dead.
‘We would urge anyone who was in the area at the time or who may have any information which may assist us with our enquiries to contact 101 or alternatively information can be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.’
Michael Gove accuses the EU of inflaming community tensions in Northern Ireland and ‘eroding trust’ after the bloc tried to stop vaccine exports to the UK
Michael Gove accused the EU of inflaming community tensions in Northern Ireland after its ditched plans to stop vaccine exports to the UK.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office said the actions taken by the European Commission on Friday last week had ‘provoked anger’ and ‘trust has been eroded’.
He warned that ‘damage has been done’ and the bloc needs to take ‘urgent action’ to repair the situation.
The European Commission’s threat to stop vaccines being sent to the UK would have placed restrictions on jabs moving into Northern Ireland, effectively undermining the hard won free-flowing Irish border.
Mr Gove’s intervention came after Brexit checks on animal and food products arriving at ports in Northern Ireland were suspended over threatening loyalist behaviour.
Import inspections at Belfast and Larne were stopped ‘with immediate effect’ last night as Stormont’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) assessed risk to workers at the sites.
The decision came after a local council decided to remove 12 of its staff at Larne port due to ‘an upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour in recent weeks’ amid growing discontent over the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.
Michael Gove told the EU ‘damage has been done’ in Northern Ireland after its ditched threat to block vaccine exports
Ursula von der Leyen announced on Friday that the EU intended to stop vaccines being moved into Northern Ireland but swiftly backtracked after a ferocious backlash
The protocol, agreed by the EU and the UK under the terms of the Brexit divorce deal, requires regulatory and customs checks to be carried out at ports to ensure Northern Ireland continues to comply with the bloc’s red tape on goods.
The two sides agreed to the measures in order to avoid a return of checkpoints on the politically sensitive land border.
Many unionists and loyalists are against the protocol because they believe it has created an economic barrier between the region and the rest of the UK, undermining the constitutional integrity of the Union.
There has been growing opposition to the protocol since it was rolled-out on January 1 but it has been the subject of even greater tensions in recent days after the EU backtracked on a threat to suspend part of the agreement using Article 16 as part of a rumbling row with the UK over vaccines.
The botched move by the EU would have struck at the heart of the protocol’s main function – to facilitate a free-flowing Irish border – by placing restrictions on vaccines moving into Northern Ireland from the bloc.
The EU swiftly rowed back on its plans after a ferocious backlash but Mr Gove said this afternoon that the bloc’s actions had ‘provoked anger and concern across all parties’.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Gove said: ‘On Friday afternoon the European Commission, without prior consultation, published a regulation to enable restrictions on the export of vaccines from the EU.
‘That regulation also invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, barring the free movement of medicines from Ireland into Northern Ireland.
‘It is important to be clear about what was proposed. Not only plans to stop vaccines being delivered through legally binding contracts at the height of a pandemic but also and critically a unilateral suspension of the painstakingly designed and carefully negotiated provisions of the protocol which the EU has always maintained was critical to safeguarding the gains of the Northern Ireland peace process.
‘Article 16 exists for good reasons but it is meant to be invoked only after notification, only after all other options are exhausted and in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.
‘None of these conditions were met. Worse still, neither the UK Government representing the people of Northern Ireland nor the Irish Government, an EU member, were informed.
‘The Commission’s move has provoked anger and concern across all parties and throughout civil society in Northern Ireland as well as international condemnation.’
Mr Gove welcomed the fact that the plans were withdrawn but he said: ‘Trust has been eroded, damage has been done and urgent action is therefore needed.
‘Peace, progress and strong community relations in Northern Ireland have been hard won and in recent days we have seen an increase in community tension and as was reported last night port staff in Belfast and Larne have been kept away from work following concerns for their safety.’
He added: ‘Fixing problems on the ground now requires us all to work calmly. The EU needs to work with us at speed and with determination to resolve a series of outstanding issues with the protocol.’
Meanwhile, the EU also faced criticism from Downing Street today after Ursula von der Leyen accused Britain of compromising on coronavirus vaccine safety and claimed the bloc’s slower approval process was the ‘right decision’.
Number 10 hit back and said experts at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had been ‘very clear that no corners were cut, no stones were left unturned’ when they decided to give the green light to a number of jabs.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said ‘the public should be confident of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines’.