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Edwin Poots’ order to halt NI Protocol checks at ports suspended by High Court judge

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Directions issued by DUP Minister Edwin Poots to halt Irish Sea border checks are to be suspended, a High Court judge ordered today.

Mr Justice Colton confirmed that inspections on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain must continue pending the outcome of legal challenges to the step taken by Mr Poots.

The development came as an unidentified member of Sinn Fein and another individual were both granted leave to seek a judicial review of the Stormont Agriculture Minister’s decision.

He said: “There shouldn’t be any doubt or confusion hanging over those civil servants who have to comply with the law.

“I propose to make an order, suspending the order or instruction given by the Minister for Agriculture until further order of this court or completion of these proceedings.”

On Wednesday Mr Poots announced that checks were being stopped as part of the DUP’s opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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Unionists claim the post-Brexit arrangements, which involve inspecting British products to ensure compliance with EU laws, threatens the region’s status in the UK.

Mr Poots said he had received legal advice that he could direct a halt in the absence of approval for the checks from the wider Stormont Executive.

But the lawfulness of his decision is now under challenge by a Sinn Fein member granted anonymity, and a second applicant named Edward Rooney.

The cases involve a claim that the Minister is frustrating a statutory purpose.

According to those behind the challenge, the Executive has already dealt with the issue by allocating implementation of the Irish Sea border checks to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

They contend that the step taken by Mr Poots was so significant and controversial that it required full Executive consent.

At a preliminary hearing on Thursday a Departmental Solicitor’s Office confirmed the instructions would not be acted on before noon on Monday.

But in court today counsel representing Mr Poots, Aidan Sands, said: “The Minister has looked at the matter, he is not prepared to give an undertaking in the meantime.

“The Department’s position is that the decision taken, and instructions given to officials, were entirely lawful.”

Following those submissions Mr Justice Colton ruled that an arguable case has been established in both actions.

Listing the challenges for full hearing next month, the judge also agreed to grant interim relief aimed at “holding the ring” to ensure the checks continue.

“In the event this direction, order or instruction (by Mr Poots) turns out to be unlawful, that does have consequences beyond the courts,” he said.

Mr Poots issued the order ahead of his DUP colleague Paul Givan resigning as Northern Ireland’s First Minister.

Following the court ruling a solicitor for the unidentified Sinn Fein member likened the move against border checks to actions taken by former US President Donald Trump.

Paul Farrell of McIvor Farrell law firm said: “Our client regards the unilateral, disruptive actions of Minister Poots as not only reckless and ‘Trumpian’, but a pre-election stunt contrary to his legal obligations.

“We would expect the DUP leadership and Minister Poots to abide by the rule of law and, as ordered by the court, continue with the current border checks as is required by law.”


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