NI Protocol: UK Government department to intervene in High Court challenge to Edwin Poots’ Irish Sea border checks decision

A UK Government department is to intervene in a High Court challenge to DUP Minister Edwin Poots’ decision to order a halt on Irish Sea border checks, it emerged today.

he Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)’s involvement was confirmed as the case was listed for full hearing in September.

Legal action is being taken against Mr Poots for instructing his officials in February to stop the inspections on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

The step taken by the Stormont Agriculture Minister came amid continued DUP opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Unionists claim the arrangements, which involve inspecting British products to ensure compliance with EU laws, threatens the region’s status in the UK.

Mr Poots said he had received legal advice that he could direct a halt in the absence of approval for the checks from the wider Stormont Executive.

His decision is being challenged by a Sinn Fein member granted anonymity, another applicant named Edward Rooney, and Belfast City Council.

Contending that it frustrated a statutory purpose, they claim the Stormont administration allocated implementation of the checks to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

The step taken by the Minister was allegedly so significant and controversial that it required consent from the full Executive.

Proceedings were put on hold last month amid new claims that Mr Poots’ department may never have been under a legal obligation to carry out the checks.

Responsibility may instead lie with HM Government, it was suggested.

At a further hearing today it was confirmed that Whitehall wants to intervene in the case, with senior counsel instructed by DEFRA to make submissions about Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) checks on goods and animals coming into Northern Ireland through an EU-approved Point of Entry.

With counsel for Mr Poots, John Larkin QC, pressing for the case to be dealt with as soon as possible, Mr Justice Colton agreed to list the challenge for a two-day hearing in September.

Meanwhile, the checks are to continue under judicial order until a final determination is made.

Solicitor Ciaran O’Hare of McIvor Farrell, representing the Sinn Fein member, welcomed the developments.

Outside court he said: “My client is pleased that his case has now been listed for a full judicial review hearing.

“He has been vindicated in his endeavours to date, having successfully obtained an interim court order suspending the directions issued by Mr Poots on February 2 this year.”

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