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DUP bid to block Brexit checks illegal, Belfast judge rules

DUP bid to block Brexit checks illegal, Belfast judge rules

The pro-Brexit party’s February attempt to stop EU-required controls ‘was motivated by political rather than legal considerations.’
The Democratic Unionists acted illegally when they ordered a halt to post-Brexit checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland, a Belfast judge ruled Thursday in the latest setback for the party’s anti-protocol campaign.

Justice Adrian Colton gave a point-by-point demolition of the DUP’s rationale for ordering the U-turn on checks in February 2022, shortly before the party withdrew from the top post in Northern Ireland’s cross-community government, triggering its eventual collapse.

Pending the court judgment, senior civil servants had refused to carry out the order of then-Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots to halt EU-required checks on goods arriving in the ports of Larne and Belfast. His order faced immediate legal challenge, including from Belfast City Council, which is responsible for ensuring that post-Brexit trade rules are enforced at the capital’s port.

Colton said Poots — who like other ministers was ejected from office in October when time finally ran out on their leaderless coalition — had not waited for his own department’s legal advice and “was motivated by political rather than legal considerations.”

The judge said Poots and the agriculture department under his control “had at all material times a statutory obligation to implement the checks” and, by trying to stop those checks after 13 months in lawful operation, “was in breach of his legal obligations.”

Poots and the DUP offered no reaction.

The party and other anti-protocol unionists have lost a string of court actions challenging the legality of the protocol, a key plank of the U.K.’s 2019 Withdrawal Agreement that leaves Northern Ireland subject to the EU’s goods rules. That agreement places EU checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland at the ports, rather than along the Irish land border, to keep trade barrier-free with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.

The DUP has repeatedly asserted that the checks are deterring British trade with Northern Ireland, a claim at odds with the first official full-year trade data published Wednesday. It found that the value of goods sales by Great Britain-based firms into Northern Ireland rose by 14 percent in 2021 to £12.3 billion, a record high.

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