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First Minister of NI accuses EU of having “head in sand” over checks at ports

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"Cobh (Ireland)" by psyberartist is licensed under CC-BY-2.0

11 February 2021 | UK NEWS

The Leader of the DUP and First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, has claimed that the Vice-President of the European Commission, Maroš Šefčovič, has his “head in the sand” and his “fingers in his ears” following Brexit checks at NI sea ports.

Speaking to ITV, Mrs Foster claimed the Vice-President was ignoring problems faced by NI importers as a result of new trade barriers.

The UK Government wants an extension until 2023 of the “grace periods” on some checks, in order to allow some businesses to adjust to the new regulations. On Wednesday, however, Šefčovič appeared to rule out any changes until the Northern Ireland Protocol is fully implemented.

Foster attended a meeting today between Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and Maroš Šefčovič to discuss the issues of checks on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. While Mr Gove attempted to extend the grace period as planned, Whitehall officials confirmed this would not be permitted.

Instead, reports suggest only a few extra months will be granted, with Ms Foster revealing that Mr Šefčovič wanted to increase the goods checks that have caused delivery delays for NI citizens. She had previously described even the current situation as “incredible state of affairs”.

The DUP Leader said the Northern Ireland Protocol was causing problems, not only for businesses trading across the Irish Sea, but also for consumers who are having difficulty with parcel deliveries from Great Britain.

She claimed the issues with the UK internal market had been disrupted so severely that “you can’t even get a pot plant”.

Other Irish politicians have been critical of Mrs Foster’s response, with the MP for South Down, Chris Hazzard, labelling her comments “laughable” and adding: “Most observers are seeing a DUP approach to Brexit which at best is wrapped up in a series of contradictions and at worst stinks of hypocrisy”.

There have been reports of Irish loyalists threatening border officials, which is causing concern in Northern Ireland following the European Commission’s abortive triggering of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which it quickly retracted after a significant backlash.

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