Boris Johnson was blindsided by a move from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to tell officials to stop border checks that are a part of the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, Number 10 has revealed.
Johnson’s official spokesman today said Downing Street was not warned by DUP agriculture minister Edwin Poots that he was going to make the dramatic move, which Ireland has claimed is a breach of international law.
The border checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are still continuing for now, despite Poots’ order.
The protocol has been met with fury in large sections of Northern Ireland’s unionist community as it creates a so-called border in the Irish Sea and separates the country from the rest of the UK in some respects.
“We are monitoring the situation closely, and keeping the legal position under review,” Johnson’s spokesman said.
“The operation of those checks is a matter for the Northern Ireland executive, as SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary] checks are a devolved competence. We want the executive to resolve this issue in the first instance, and we are in contact with them.”
Environment secretary George Eustice today told MPs that he spoke to Poots this morning to “gain an understanding of his perspective”.
“He explained that he had taken his own legal advice before issuing the direction to officials,” he said.
“He also explained that he had hoped to secure an opportunity for the Northern Ireland executive to discuss the situation regarding the current implementation of SPS checks and points of entry.”
It comes as foreign secretary Liz Truss and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic are meeting today to resume negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Both sides have agreed there needs to be less checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland as the current situation is causing economic and political friction.
A spokesperson for the EU said: “The European Commission will closely monitor developments in Northern Ireland pursuant to this announcement. It recalls the responsibility of the UK government for the respect of the international obligations it has entered into. The protocol is the one and only solution we have found with the UK to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) agreement.”
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said Poots’ actions were a “a breach of international law”.