Northern Ireland police chief urges people to ‘step back from brink’ as trade tensions rise

The DUP is pursuing a boycott on engagement with the Irish government on issues related to its operation and a vow to oppose any protocol-related legislation at the Assembly.

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson said that he was prepared to use Article 16 to override the Withdrawal Agreement to prevent a trade barrier in the Irish Sea. 

Chief Constable Simon Byrne warned that 26 graffiti incidents across Northern Ireland, and threats towards officials carrying out Brexit customs checks at ports in Belfast and Larne, had created a “febrile” atmosphere. 

Physical inspections on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain have been suspended at ports amid intimidation of staff. EU officials based in Belfast have been told not to come to the office. Police said the threats were the work of disgruntled individuals, not loyalist paramilitaries.

Mr Byrne told the Policing Board in Belfast: “We need to work together to look at a route map to normality because that seems to be the opportunity before us, to step back from the brink in terms of community tension.”

The British demand for an extension or replacement agreements for the grace periods were made in a meeting with senior commission officials on Wednesday night. Further talks are expected in London. 

UK officials told the commission it should ensure that people’s lives were impacted as little as possible, in line with the protocol. British officials are not convinced that Brussels fully understands the dangers to the peace process created by the threat of the vaccines border.

“We need a workable solution that allows Northern Irish retailers to continue to give households the choice and affordability they need,” Aodhán Michael Connolly, the director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, told The Telegraph. 

On Thursday, the European Commission and Ireland said pragmatic solutions could be found within the protocol but that some friction was a consequence of Brexit. 

Simon Coveney, the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, said: “We need to be truthful with everybody – the protocol is not going to be scrapped.”

Neale Richmond, the Fine Gael Europe spokesman and Dublin Rathdown TD, said: “Brexit is not done – there will always be issues like this. We need to work at solving these issues, not create new problems. Triggering Article 16 at this time would solve nothing. It would be wrong for the British Government to do so just as it was wrong for the European Commission to countenance it last week.

An EU diplomat said: “Unless the UK Government fails to help its business sort out supply chains, the current friction reflects the reality of its decision to put a border down the Irish Sea.”

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