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'Pragmatic and responsible,' says DUP Minister Lyons on halting border post work as he warns of future food supplies

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Gordon Lyons

Gordon Lyons

Gordon Lyons

The Agriculture Minister has warned of an impact on food supplies at the end of March as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol saying it was "pragmatic and responsible" for him to take action on halting work on building border checkpoints at ports.

The minister ordered his officials to halt construction of permanent inspection facilities for post-Brexit checks.

The DUP’s Gordon Lyons warned that the uncertainty around the Protocol and the grace periods – due to expire at the start of April - were leading to “real problems” for businesses and potentially the supply of food.

Mr Lyons also rejected claims that the row over his decision had an impact on Executive meetings around easing lockdown restrictions, with the plan around reducing restrictions not yet published or agreed.

Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster, Mr Lyons said the issue around post-Brexit port checks would be discussed further among the Executive on Monday and accused some of having their “head buried in the sand” around the Protocol.

He said he had consulted legal advice ahead of his decision last week to halt work.

“I have let my Executive colleagues know what it is that I have done. No doubt we will have further conversations around this today,” he said.

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“I think it is entirely pragmatic and responsible for me to look at the legal uncertainties, to look at the practical barriers and say it is right to stop this, especially when negotiations continue to go on.

“We have always made clear our opposition to the protocol for a number of reasons. It is exactly certainty for business that I am trying to ensure we can have.

“I have said within the Assembly and to my Executive colleagues that we are facing real problems here at the end of the grace period in terms of food supply.

“I don’t want the protocol and I think a grace period would only kick this further down the road. The end of the grace period is giving us additional uncertainty. What I want to see is a permanent solution.”

Mr Lyons also refused to be drawn on comments made by his DUP colleague Sammy Wilson - with the East Antrim MP making comments on Sunday in the Irish Times, that the party would "fight guerilla warfare" against the Protocol.

“We will be challenging the government on a daily basis, telling them to do what they can now to undo the damage done to Northern Ireland," said Sammy Wilson.

“We will fight guerrilla warfare against this, until the big battle opportunity comes."

Department of Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, however, accused Mr Lyons of being “irresponsible” and of escalating tensions.

“The Minister for Agriculture very deliberately sent a seriously concerning memo to his executive colleagues on a Friday evening,” she said.

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SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon (Peter Morrison/PA)

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon (Peter Morrison/PA)

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon (Peter Morrison/PA)

“He was deliberately vague in his letter. Has yet to find time to meet or speak with his Executive colleagues.

“This is a further act of escalation by the DUP. It is very clear [the decision] has no effect without coming to the Executive.

“The DUP are not interested in finding solutions. The DUP used their veto to block my proposal for an extension to the transition period.

“It is very clear the decision he has said he is taking is cross cutting and is controversial and should have come before the Executive. It is not in his gift to make that decision.”

The NI Protocol was designed to avoid the implementation of a hard border on the island of Ireland by having Northern Ireland continue to follow EU trade rules, thus creating a de-facto border down the Irish Sea.

Belfast Telegraph


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