The European Commission has condemned the state of checks on goods coming into the EU via Northern Ireland.

The EU Commission looked at the official controls on animals and goods entering Northern Ireland and verified compliance of border control posts (BCPs) in the country with European Union requirements. The Northern Ireland protocol, agreed as part of the United Kingdom leaving Europe, means Northern Ireland continues to follow some EU rules.

The scope included animals, products of animal origin, those of non-animal origin subject to mandatory checks at BCPs and plant products.

An audit found the system for controlling access of animals and Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) goods into the EU via Northern Ireland border control posts does not function effectively and eight recommendations were made.

“In short, 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 area through the designated border control posts in Northern Ireland,” according to a report.

Resource problems
The audit, in June 2021, was partly remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It identified “several critical factors” which undermined the credibility of guarantees given by the UK government.

This included failing to ensure sufficient resources for responsible authorities in Northern Ireland. Auditors said a decision to halt recruitment and development of BCP infrastructure is stopping full implementation of the protocol.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) revealed that, at the time of the control, 16 of 27 approved official veterinarian posts were vacant. District councils responsible for controls on behalf of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) also said more environmental health officers would be needed in future.

Due to a shortage of staff and the high volume of animals and SPS goods, DAERA could not implement all types of controls it had prioritized. These were animals and SPS goods intended for member states. There were more than 55,000 consignments of animals and SPS goods that moved from Great Britain into Northern Ireland between January and June 2021.

DAERA data shows 85 percent of document checks were done for animals and SPS goods between January and June, 77 percent of identify checks and 30 percent of physical checks. Examination of some documentary controls showed discrepancies were either not detected or not corrected, and that the outcome of those checks were recorded as satisfactory, and corresponding shipments accepted for entry into the EU.

Checks and enforcement
Absence of a functioning customs’ control system hampers identification of consignments which should be subject to official controls and undermines enforcement of operators’ obligations to present such loads for checks, according to the audit report.

Based on risk-assessments and the lack of divergence with EU requirements, DAERA and FSA concluded the sampling of goods of animal origin under the protocol is not appropriate. Neither agency had developed a monitoring plan for animal origin products originating from Great Britain at the three BCPs visited, which is not in line with EU rules.

Temporary facilities and available equipment in the three main BCPs in Northern Ireland also did not satisfy the minimum EU requirements.

Authorities said they do not apply administrative or legal sanctions on operators for failing to give prior notification or for late notification on arrival of consignments. They also do not collect fees or charges for official controls on animals and goods moving from Great Britain via BCPs in Northern Ireland into the EU.

Not all vehicles selected for official controls are presented by the operators. DAERA told the Commission that from June 18 to 28, 2021, 9 percent of requested vehicles were not seen at BCP facilities. There is no system to ensure that if a consignment is not presented for controls, it is retained or recalled and placed under official detention.

The UK put conditions on meat not allowed to be sent to Europe and other items called “supermarket goods” moving from Great Britain into Northern Ireland via BCPs. The audit team visited two retail distribution centers and noted supermarket goods were packaged for end consumers, but did not have a label reading “These products from the United Kingdom may not be marketed outside Northern Ireland.”

Auditors also found no evidence that authorities had monitored the movement of retail goods to the destination store in Northern Ireland, as required. The EU Commission said it did not have confidence that UK authorities can guarantee items are only supplied to listed supermarkets in Northern Ireland and are not sold outside the country.

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