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Stormont leaders write to PM after UK knocks back EU Belfast office request

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EU and UK officials are meeting to discuss how arrangements will operate after the transition period ends.

EU and UK officials are meeting to discuss how arrangements will operate after the transition period ends.

PA Archive/PA Images

EU and UK officials are meeting to discuss how arrangements will operate after the transition period ends.

Four Stormont leaders have written a joint letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressing their concern at the UK's rejection of a request by the EU to establish an office in Belfast.

RTE reported the bloc asked to set up an office in the city in order to ensure agreements made in the withdrawal deal were being followed.

The protocol would see checks carried out on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain to determine if they were to enter the EU through the Republic.

It's reported the EU wants a physical presence, which would have customs and veterinary staff, saying there is provision in the protocol for such an office, however this request has been declined by the UK Government.

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and the Green Party's Clare Bailey have now penned a letter to the PM stating they feel such an office is necessary to ensure the implementation of commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement.

"You are aware that under, the terms negotiated by your Government, EU representatives have a right under law to be present during any activities relating to the protocol implementation," they said.

"It is also for the EU to determine the extent to which it wishes to exercise these rights, including the opening of an office in Belfast staffed by EU representatives who can carry out their functions without interruption by the Westminster Government."

The letter states it is necessary for EU experts to be based Belfast to liaise with the UK Government and NI Executive on the implementation of the protocol.

"To oppose the opening of such an office by the EU in Belfast represents an act of bad faith by your Government and a breach of trust at this critical stage of the process," they added.

"We are calling on you to reverse the approach taken by your Government without delay and comply with the request made by the European Commission."

The protocol states that the EU "shall have a right to be present" and the UK would "facilitate such a presence". Brussels officials believe this entails an office, however, officials on the UK side said this could lead to "joint patrols" and a permanent presence.

The EU, it is believed, is to insist on an office in order to assure member states the agreement is being followed.

RTE reported the matter was raised at the first teleconference of the EU-UK joint committee which is tasked with working out the finer points of how the Irish protocol will work at the end of the transition period.

A UK government spokesperson said: "We received an initial request from the EU and responded to decline the proposal in February. We have since received a follow up letter to which we will respond in due course."

Before the UK's departure from the EU in January, the EU Commission had an office on Bedford Street in the city centre.

EU officials told RTE they understood the sensitivities around having an office in Belfast, "given the political tension in Northern Ireland since the Brexit referendum, and given that there would not be similar offices in Edinburgh and Cardiff".

A UK government spokesperson said: "We received an initial request from the EU and responded to decline the proposal in February. We have since received a follow up letter to which we will respond in due course."

Belfast Telegraph