Post-Brexit checks on animal and food products at Northern Irish ports have been suspended due to security concerns for staff amid increased tensions linked to Brexit trade protocols.
This follows a decision made last night by the Mid and East Antrim Council, home to the major freight and passenger Port of Larne, to withdraw more than a dozen of their staff involved in Brexit inspection duties due to what the Mayor, Peter Johnston described as: “Deeply troubling graffiti and a very notable upping in community tensions.”
In recent days, graffiti appeared in Larne and other loyalist areas of Northern Ireland which described the Port staff as “targets” of possible violence.
In a statement posted to Twitter, the Assistant Chief Constable of the Police Service Northern Ireland, Mark McEwan said that they were meeting today to discuss the issue, and stated that the police “have increased patrols at Larne Port and other points of entry in order to reassure staff and the local community.”
Post-Brexit legislation regarding trade in Northern Ireland has stoked discontent among some members of the unionist community in Northern Ireland, who wish for the country to remain an integral part of the UK. This is in particular response to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which allows Northern Ireland to remain as part of the EU single market to facilitate ease of trade across the border with the Republic of Ireland.
At the end of the Brexit transition period, on 1 January 2021, Great Britain withdrew from the EU single market, but Northern Ireland remained. Due to strict EU rules on agricultural imports, Border Control Posts were built at Larne, and two other Northern Irish ports, to inspect food and animal goods arriving from other parts of the UK.
Politicians across Northern Ireland have condemned these threats, and have warned against language which may further stoke these tensions.
“With growing stress inside sections of the community, I will appeal for calm. It is time for people to dial down the rhetoric, the rule of law must be maintained,” the Alliance Party’s Minister for Agriculture, John Blair said, in a statement to The Lens.
The Member of Parliament for the Larne area, Sammy Wilson, tweeted that: “The [Northern Ireland Protocol] must go but politics is the way.” His political party, the Democratic Unionist Party, opposed any special circumstances for Northern Ireland during the Brexit negotiations.