The UK government has confirmed to the EU that there will be inspection posts at ports in Northern Ireland, after months of uncertainty over the matter.
A letter was sent from Whitehall to the executive office in Stormont this week saying there will be physical border control posts at ports in Belfast, Warrenpoint and Larne.
The news that has been greeted with dismay by Unionists in Northern Ireland, who do not wish Northern Ireland to be treated differently to the rest of the UK after the transition period ends.
However, the need for customs checks are implicit the ‘Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland’ that is part of the Withdrawal Agreement signed by the UK with the EU.
Checks and documentation for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland are required as that province shares a land border with an EU country (the Irish Republic) - unless special arrangements are negotiated as part of the ongoing UK-EU trade talks.
The extra bureaucracy and costs involved in customs check are unpopular across the Northern Irish political and business spectrum.
The government of the Irish Republic, on the other hand, is relieved to avoid having customs posts along the country’s inland border with Northern Ireland.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had previously said checks would not be required for the sending of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Last year he said that if businesses were asked to complete customs paperwork, he would “direct them to throw that form in the bin.”
Declan Kearney, one of two junior ministers in the executive office in Stormont, confirmed the UK government’s change of position at a select committee session in Belfast this week.
“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.
Customs officers and vets
The posts will host customs officers and vets to check imports of live animals.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken said an “Irish Sea border” was now “sadly inevitable”.