By James Ward, PA
Incoming DUP leader Edwin Poots has claimed the Northern Ireland protocol is “undeliverable” and indicated he may order officials to halt border checks if the issue is not resolved.
A new raft of checks on goods at the ports of Belfast and Larne under the terms of the protocol have sparked anger among unionists and loyalists who feel Northern Ireland is being separated from the rest of the UK.
While talks are continuing between the EU and UK government over solving the issues linked to the protocol, both the outgoing DUP leader Arlene Foster, and her incoming successor have insisted it must be scrapped.
“We don’t have the staff to actually do this job,” he said.
“The number of vets that are required are non-existent, it takes five years to train vets, there’s already a shortage of vets in the United Kingdom.
“What I am saying and saying clearly, is that is not practical, and is not possible.
“We need to go back to the drawing board, and I believe that there are solutions.”
Mr Poots said he wants to facilitate the EU in the protection of the single market, but said the level of checks required at Northern Irish ports was disproportionate.
He said the political arguments against the protocol from unionism are being heard by the UK government.
'Last resort' option
He added: “I believe that they are having a significant impact within the UK government, and that there is a lot of listening happening and I’m heartened by that.
“We’re also looking at the legal remedies and I have consulted with senior counsel based in London on this.
“I would hope to lead a challenge from a number of departments: health, economy and indeed my own department of agriculture and environment on this issue.
“Those areas will be sought first should we be put back into the corner.”
He said there was another option, which he described as a “last resort” that the DUP will consider.
Asked if this meant non-compliance with border checks, he replied: “Absolutely.”
The problem with the protocol is that it is undeliverable
He told Times Radio: “In fact, the problem with non-compliance is I think that we cannot comply, we cannot get the staff.
“The vets are not available anywhere in the United Kingdom to actually enable us to comply with what is being asked of us.
“The problem with the protocol is that it is undeliverable.”
He added: “I think that people in the European Union need to waken up to it.
“I think the UK government have woken up to it.”
Mr Poots also brushed off concerns over a LucidTalks poll for the Belfast Telegraph at the weekend, which put the DUP at just 16 per cent, some way behind Sinn Féin, the most popular party, on 25 per cent.
“The poll was actually gathered on the week that I was elected, so it’s a reflection of where the party was and not where it is or will be under my leadership,” he said.
The poll also found that Mr Poots’ leadership rival, Jeffrey Donaldson, was more popular among DUP supporters by a three-to-one margin.
Mr Poots was ranked by voters as the worst-performing party leader in Northern Ireland, behind the outgoing Arlene Foster.
He was rated as bad or awful by 62 per cent of voters, compared to 50 per cent who said that of Ms Foster.