New Brexit checks at NI ports will not be ready on time, official confirms

New checkpoints for goods entering Northern Ireland from the UK will not be ready for the end of the Brexit transition period, a senior official has confirmed.

Emergency arrangements will be prepared, including repurposing old buildings and a temporary paper-based control system, when the requirement for additional government controls in ports goes into effect on January 1st.

Denis McMahon, the permanent secretary for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, said he and his colleagues remained in an "impossible position" while working on a project openly rejected by their minister, Edwin Poots.

He told the congregation's audit committee, "My message to you today is that despite the tremendous efforts of the team, not everything will happen by January 1, 2021."

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<figcaption>DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots is against the expansion of the control posts in the NI ports (Liam McBurney / PA).</figcaption></figure>
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<p>Mr McMahon said his department was required by law to implement the new SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) controls and would act illegally if they did not continue with the work.</p>
<p>"We are trapped in an impossible position and the impossible position we are trapped in is that we are working for ministers. I absolutely believe in the democratic principle of working for ministers. It's not just something I do as a day job, I absolutely believe in it, ”he said.</p>
<p>“However, I am also absolutely committed to complying with the law, and we have found that the wider policy has put us in an impossible position to move through this process.</p>
<p>"It may not look nice, but we were very open and very honest about where we were."</p>
<p>The official said while Mr Poots maintained his opposition to the project, the DUP minister recognized the legal obligation in both national and international law to put the infrastructure in place.</p>
<p>The committee heard that procurement, planning and IT issues had delayed work on the new port facilities.</p>
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<figcaption>Animal foods must be checked in NI ports after the transition period ends (Brian Lawless / PA).</figcaption></figure>
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<p>Mr McMahon said that a lack of clarity on what controls were required due to the continuing lack of agreement between the EU and the UK on this issue was severely hampering their efforts.</p>
<p>He informed committee members that the project had now been given red status, meaning it could not be delivered as planned within the January 1st deadline.</p>
<p>Mr Poots told the congregation on Tuesday that it was almost certain that the facilities would not be ready for the end of the transition period.</p>
<p>On Thursday, Mr McMahon said officials did not know the size of facilities required as the EU-UK joint committee had not agreed any review requirements for the application of the Northern Ireland Protocol.</p>
<p>According to the protocol contained in the Brexit withdrawal agreement, Northern Ireland will remain in the EU internal market for goods after the transition period has expired.</p>
<p>This will require additional regulatory controls on food of animal origin entering Northern Ireland from the UK.</p>
<p>Mr McMahon said it was crucial that the committee could agree to minimize the controls required.</p>
<p>He said if there was no agreement on the minimization, the average UK supermarket truck would require 400 separate certifications to enter Northern Ireland.</p>
<p>"In this context, we can do what we want, but without the help of the UK and the EU to simplify the related processes, we will not be able to achieve the level of smooth trade we have today," added he added.</p>
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