Belfast high court rules that agri-food checks must continue at Northern Ireland ports

Fri 4 Feb 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

irish protocol

The high court in Belfast this morning (Friday 4 February) overruled an instruction by the Northern Ireland Executive’s agriculture minister that checks on food and farm produce should cease, pending judicial review on Monday 7 February of that order.

The Guardian reports that the ruling means checks will continue until at least 7 March when a full hearing on the matter will take place.

Earlier this week Edwin Poots of the Democratic Unionist Party announced that he had instructed officials to stop checks at midnight on Wednesday 2 February in a protest move against the Northern Ireland Protocol but one that some NI politicians labelled as unlawful.

Mr Justice Colton said he was making an order “to suspend the instruction given by the minister for agriculture until further order of this court”.

‘Laser focus’

Meanwhile EU Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic responded to Poots’ dramatic move by saying the EU and UK must remain “laser focused on practical challenges raised by Northern Irish stakeholders”.

Sefcovic released a statement after speaking to his UK counterpart, foreign secretary Liz Truss, and said that checks were continuing at NI ports.

The vice-president of the European Commission labelled the attempt to halt agri-food checks between Great Britain and NI as “very unhelpful”.

Customs and SPS

Sefcovic said talks would remain focused on customs and the movement of SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) goods, where “an understanding could immediately and significantly help operators on the ground while safeguarding the integrity of the EU's single market”. 

Sefcovic’s statement said both teams would continue intensive talks on facilitating the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol next week and that he would meet Truss next Friday 11 February.

Poots move

As previously covered in the IOE&IT’s Daily Update, Poots ordered checks to cease from midnight on Wednesday 2 February. Adding to the political pressure on the protocol, his fellow DUP member Paul Givan then resigned as First Minister, meaning that deputy First Minister and vice president of Sinn Fein Michelle O’Neill also had to resign under power-sharing rules.

Snap election

Givan’s resignation has plunged the devolved government at Stormont into turmoil and has prompted calls for a snap election from DUP and Sinn Fein, reports the Guardian.

Other ministers can continue with their portfolios, allowing Stormont to operate until planned elections in May, but the executive’s function will be paralysed.

Belfast port record

Meanwhile, trade flows have hit records at Belfast Port as global trade ramps up, reports Business Live.

Belfast Harbour handled 25.6 million tonnes in 2021, a 9% increase on 2020 when volumes had been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) freight traffic jumped 12% to 600,000 freight units while container traffic climbed 15% to 132,000 units, the highest level since 2008.

Ro-ro was bolstered by the fact new movement checks as a result of Brexit prompted some lorries which would previously have travelled between GB and the Republic to travel via Northern Ireland instead.