Border checks stopped at N Ireland ports after threats

Authorities in Northern Ireland have suspended post-Brexit checks on animal products and withdrawn workers from two ports after threats against border staff

Via AP news wire
Tuesday 02 February 2021 09:48 GMT
Virus Outbreak Britain Vaccines Politics
Virus Outbreak Britain Vaccines Politics

Authorities in Northern Ireland have suspended post-Brexit checks on animal products and withdrawn workers from two ports after threats against border staff.

The Northern Ireland government said Tuesday it had stopped inspections at Belfast and Larne ports “in the interests of the wellbeing of staff.” Mark McEwan, Assistant Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said the force had increased patrols “in order to reassure staff and the local community.”

Graffiti recently appeared in the Larne area, 20 miles (32 kilometers) northeast of Belfast, referring to post-Brexit tensions over Northern Ireland and describing port staff as “targets.”

Local mayor Peter Johnston said there had been “deeply troubling graffiti and a very notable upping of community tensions.”

Since the U.K. left the European Union’s economic structures at the end of 2020, customs and veterinary checks have been imposed on goods moving between Britain and the bloc. Under the U.K.-EU divorce terms there are also checks on British goods going to Northern Ireland, because it shares a border with EU member Ireland.

An open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is a key pillar of the peace process that ended decades of violence in the region. With Britain out of the EU, the only way to avoid checks along that border was to keep Northern Ireland bound to some of the EU’s rules -- and that means checks on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

That decision is opposed by pro-British Unionist politicians, who say it amounts to a border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. Police have warned that violent British Loyalist groups could capitalize on the tensions.

The sensitivity of Northern Ireland’s status was underscored last week, when the EU threatened to ban shipments of coronavirus vaccines to Northern Ireland as part of moves to shore up the bloc’s supply. That would have drawn a hard border on the island of Ireland — exactly the scenario the Brexit deal was crafted to avoid. British, Irish and Northern Ireland politicians all expressed alarm at the plan, and the EU dropped the idea.

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