Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: More questions than answers over border

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne

Editor's Viewpoint

Since the Brexit referendum in 2016, the planning for leaving the European Union has been shambolic, to put it mildly. The political wrangles which have torn Parliament and large swathes of the UK apart have been evident to everyone here and abroad, but that is only part of the problem.

Failure to reach any agreement of the political shape of the exit has left Government departments and the business community at a loss on how to plan for the future.

And with the EU and business organisations in Northern Ireland pouring cold water on the Prime Minister's proposals for getting rid of the Irish backstop, it seems that new problems are emerging all the time.

The latest, and perhaps most surprising, is the statement by the new Chief Constable of the PSNI, Simon Byrne, that his officers will not police any customs checkpoints on the border after Brexit.

On a call with the Prime Minister, he warned that he has insufficient officers to police the border and that the location of police stations in the area only adds to his difficulties.

The Chief Constable said his officers would carry out normal policing duties in the area and would assist customs officers if they were in danger but would not be drawn into any other extra policing duties.

This is a remarkable state of affairs given that it has been well signposted that the emergence of a hard border on the island could be the excuse for terrorist groups such as dissident republicans to step up their campaign of violence.

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Why was the opinion of the PSNI not sought before this 11th hour as the clock ticks down to the Prime Minister's October 31 deadline for leaving the EU?

Mr Byrne makes a valid point that his present force strength of 6,700 is less than he requires to combat terrorism as well as provide a normal policing service. He wants another 800 officers, which the Policing Board accepts, but where will the extra £40m to fund the expansion come from?

Yet it is the Chief Constable's comments on policing the border which will provide the big talking point - and a headache for the UK Government. If he sticks to that position, who will man the 300 border crossings? Will it just be selective checks on goods going both ways across the border, which will make it a porous rather than hard border? Not surprisingly, it seems no one knows any of the answers.

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