Belfast Telegraph

Brexit: My officers will not man border posts, PSNI chief Byrne insists

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne at the Policing Board meeting in Belfast yesterday
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne at the Policing Board meeting in Belfast yesterday
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

The Chief Constable has "made it clear" to the Northern Ireland Office that PSNI officers will not "staff any form of border security" after the UK leaves the EU.

Simon Byrne also said he had told Boris Johnson it is "impossible" to police the 300 crossings between Northern Ireland and the Republic with current policing numbers.

The PSNI chief revealed that he has taken advice to clarify his "constitutional position" regarding the policing of customs checkpoints after the UK leaves the EU, insisting that is not his officers' role.

Mr Byrne told a meeting of the Policing Board yesterday: "We have been working closely with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to understand our constitutional position in relation to any proposed changes to border arrangements, and I have been clear with the NIO in particular it will not be the role of the PSNI to staff any form of border security.

"We are clearly there to facilitate normality and day-to-day policing, but not to carry out custom checks and the function of other agencies in whatever proposal is or isn't agreed in the next few weeks, and indeed I have taken legal advice on that basis to confirm to me the independence of the office of Chief Constable and the duties I have to make sure that police officers are used for legitimate policing purpose."

Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said she welcomed the Chief Constable's views on policing any potential customs checkpoints.

"The PSNI always set out, even from George Hamilton's time, their concerns in relation to any hard border, warning that any infrastructure at the border would be a magnet for dissidents and expressed their concerns over any attacks there might be," added the Upper Bann SDLP MLA.

Mr Byrne also said he spoke to the Prime Minister last Friday via video-link for 30 minutes after being asked to provide input into the current tasks facing the PSNI in border areas.

He said Mr Johnson was "responsive" to the challenges facing the PSNI.

"We were specifically asked for input and we had a good opportunity to make our case and show him personally the scale of policing tasks in the border areas and some of the challenges you might anticipate, including the detail of where our police stations are," he said.

"My impression was that we had a lengthy conversation in which he understood some of the issues."

He added: "It was a very open conversation to try and tell him that it was impossible to police over 300 crossings with the amount of police officers we have.

"It was a candid conversation, he was responsive to what we said and at the end of the day, how it landed and what he thought ... you're going to have to ask him."

There are currently around 6,700 police officers in the PSNI and yesterday the Policing Board approved his request to bring his workforce up to around 7,500 officers.

"While £40m is our estimate (to hire the extra officers), if you think about it it's £2 per resident per year when we round it up," he said.

"It is a wise investment and will give us more presence in neighbourhood policing teams but also to tackle some of the change in crime types today."

Board chairwoman Professor Anne Connolly confirmed that the decision to approve the extra officers was a unanimous one taken by board members.

"Seeing all the pressures the PSNI are under, without Brexit, but certainly with legacy, the board was more than happy to support that," she said.

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