EU officials have said that the system for checks on goods moving from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland is “not fit for purpose”.
The draft report, compiled following an audit carried out by the European Commission in June last year, is highly critical of the current system of agri-food checks and recommends a series of changes.
Officials say the UK Government has “failed to ensure that sufficient resources – human and structural – have been made available to the responsible competent authorities in Northern Ireland”.
Since the UK left the EU, new trade arrangements have created economic barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with the aim being to avoid the creation of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
It has achieved that by effectively keeping Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market for goods, which has led to the checks on products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.
The report is highly critical of the implementation of these checks, noting: “The system is not fit for purpose, does not comply with EU rules and cannot provide sufficient assurances that only compliant animals and goods are permitted to enter the EU SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary] area through the designated border control posts in Northern Ireland.”
Staffing was cited as a major issue, with EU officials bemoaning an insufficient number of “suitably qualified staff so that official controls and other official activities can be performed efficiently and effectively”.
This week, Stormont’s First Minister Paul Givan said his party colleague Edwin Poots will order a stop to the controversial checks after a failed bid to secure the wider approval of the Stormont Executive to continue them.
The anticipated move by the Agriculture Minister has been branded a stunt by other parties in Northern Ireland.
The other Executive parties insist Mr Poots does not have the authority to prevent checks required under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, an international treaty.
Unionists parties and loyalist groups have long been opposed to the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland, arguing that they damage the union between the region and Great Britain.
The UK and the EU remain in talks, as both sides attempt to reach a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Among the recommendations contained in the report are calls to ensure that the authorities have access to a sufficient number of qualified staff, as well as pointing out the need for better facilities and improved information sharing.
“Undertakings given in the United Kingdom’s unilateral declarations have also not been delivered,” the report concludes.
“The system in place for controlling the entry of animals and goods into the EU SPS area via Northern Ireland border control posts does not, and cannot in the current circumstances, function effectively.”