The Government’s plans for red and green lanes for checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK will require the construction of “enhanced facilities” at ports, a minister has said
In a letter to peers, minister for biosecurity Lord Benyon said the Government is “working intensively” to put in place revised arrangements for the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.
He said the Government prefers a negotiated settlement with the EU over differences on the protocol, but said it was proceeding with arrangements in legislation which overrides parts of the treaty.
The protocol was agreed by the UK and the EU as a way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.
It shifted the requirement for checks and customs declarations to trade crossing the Irish Sea, but is deeply unpopular with unionists, and the DUP has collapsed the powersharing institutions at Stormont in protest.
The UK Government, while continuing to negotiate with the EU over the protocol, has also introduced legislation in Parliament to override many parts of the treaty.
The Bill includes provision for the green and red lane system at Northern Ireland ports – with the green lane for goods from Great Britain which are staying in the region and the red lane to check and control goods going on to the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU.
In his letter to the House of Lords subcommittee on the Northern Ireland Protocol, Lord Benyon said: “The Government’s preference remains a negotiated solution, but we are proceeding with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill as the situation in Northern Ireland needs to be resolved in any event.
“This involves preparing to be able to deliver the red and green lane arrangements set out in the Bill in a smooth and timely way.
“It is written into the Bill’s text itself that we will not set aside the application of EU law in relation to checks and controls for EU-destined goods.
“The Government’s plans for implementation of the red lane were rightly questioned by many peers during the Bill’s second reading and at committee stage.
“The Government’s position has always been that the arrangements in place for the red lane will require the enhancement of existing SPS facilities at points of entry in Northern Ireland.
“The necessary construction has not taken place to date owing to wider concerns about the protocol’s implementation.
“However, acting to deliver these facilities is pivotal to securing a viable and sustainable way forward on the protocol in relation to EU-destined goods.”
Lord Benyon said delivery of the facilities was a devolved responsibility, but in the absence of Stormont the UK Government would act.
He said: “In line with that responsibility, Defra (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) will introduce the necessary statutory instrument and relevant guidance to underpin this early in 2023.
“This will be done with full recognition of the ongoing responsibility of the Northern Ireland Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) in this area, including maintaining the appropriate staffing levels for those SPS facilities and other administrative matters.
“In the event that the Northern Ireland Executive is restored, our intention would be to engage on the scope for returning responsibilities back to the executive where there was agreement to this.
“In the meantime, the Government remains determined to implement as necessary the approach in the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, support the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive, and protect biosecurity across the UK.”
Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesman Tom Elliott said Lord Benyon’s letter indicated that the protocol was being enhanced rather than replaced.
He said: “In what appears to be UK appeasement of the EU to enhance checks at Northern Ireland ports, there is no indication of anything positive coming from the UK protocol legislation that will resolve the issues of the protocol in Northern Ireland.
“The UK Government seems to be giving whilst getting nothing in return.”