Blog: Former DUP minister Edwin Poots’ bid to halt Brexit Protocol checks cost public £57,000 – Belfast Live

A quashed decision by former DUP minister Edwin Poots to order officials to halt Protocol-related checks has cost the public more than £57,000 in legal fees.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has so far spent £51,875 on a failed attempt to defend a judicial review challenging his instruction, which a court ruled was unlawful.

It also footed a £5,400 bill for external legal advice Mr Poots received on which he based his decision, spending figures obtained by Belfast Live reveal.

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The High Court last month quashed his instruction to halt post-Brexit checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain after a judge ruled the move was unlawful and taken for political reasons.

A legal challenge to the order was brought by a Sinn Féin member, another applicant named Edward Rooney and Belfast City Council.

Mr Poots was Agriculture Minister when he issued the instruction in February 2022, shortly before Stormont power-sharing collapsed when the DUP withdrew its First Minister in protest against the Protocol.

DAERA’s costs so far on the judicial review have reached £51,875 but no final court order has been made, the department said in a Freedom of Information response.

It also confirmed the cost of external legal advice Mr Poots received was £5,400.

The SDLP’s Stormont leader Matthew O’Toole described the spending as “clearly a waste of public money”.

The South Belfast MLA said: “Not only are people in Northern Ireland paying the price for the DUP’s Protocol protest by not having a government to deal with the cost-of-living crisis, hospital waiting lists and the emergency in public service pay, we are literally paying tens of thousands of pounds to defend outrageously political and clearly unlawful decisions in legal cases with little to no chance of success.”

Alliance Party Agriculture spokesperson John Blair said: “This is an example of unnecessary spending of public money on political posturing at a time when departmental budgets, as well as rural incomes, are under unprecedented pressure.

“The DUP would do well to get back to work in the Assembly to deal with a host of urgent issues, rather than selecting their chosen issues as reasons not to do their job and stopping the rest of us from doing ours.”

The DUP was approached for comment.

The party has been blocking devolved government at Stormont in protest against the Protocol, which has angered unionists for creating new barriers on trade to Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Talks between the UK and European Union are continuing in a bid to resolve disagreements over the trading arrangements.

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Mr Poots last year said he had received legal advice that he could order a halt to Protocol-related checks in the absence of approval of the inspections from the wider Executive.

It came after he received a letter in which loyalist activist Jamie Bryson argued the checks were unlawful because they had not received Executive approval.

The move was dismissed by Stormont rivals as a “stunt” and inspections continued under a court order imposed pending the outcome of judicial review proceedings.

At the High Court last month, Mr Justice Colton found the wider Executive did not need to approve the checks.

He said: “It is difficult to draw conclusion other than the decision under challenge was an overtly political one, taken for political reasons, and as part of a political campaign directed in opposition to the Protocol.”

Formally quashing Mr Poots’ order to staff, the judge said that “by issuing the instruction on 2 February 2022, the minister was in breach of his legal obligations”.

The court ruled the instruction “was unlawful and of no effect”.

In October before leaving office, Mr Poots wrote to DAERA’s permanent secretary saying he believed the department should appeal if the court ruled against him.

A DAERA spokeswoman said: “This view was expressed in advance of the judgment being available.

“Now that the judgment has been received, the department is considering it very carefully and will make a fuller statement on its next steps once it has received the court order and completed its consideration of both it and the judgment.”

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