An EU Commissioner has condemned a halt to Brexit port checks in Northern Ireland as a breach of international law.
Cross-channel relations were plunged back into the freezer, after the Democratic Unionist Party called a stop to food inspections in an apparent flouting of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The UK government has attempted to distance itself from the decision – raising eyebrows by existing it is a matter for the Stormont Executive.
But Mairead McGuinness, the EU Commissioner for financial stability, who is from Ireland, described the shelving of the checks as a flouting of an international agreement.
“I’m not sure what the purpose of this move is. It’s an absolute breach of international law,” Ms McGuinness told RTE radio.
A European Commission statement also “recalls the responsibility of the UK Government for the respect of the international obligations it has entered into”.
The decision, made unilaterally by Edwin Poots, Stormont’s agriculture minister – but condemned by other parties – was also attacked by the Tory chair of the Commons Northern Ireland Committee.
“I’m a Conservative. I believe in the Rule of Law and adhering to obligations we voluntarily entered,” Simon Hoare tweeted.
“There’s no ifs and buts on this. The reputation of the UK on these matters is important. Anyone who cares about the UK should feel the same.”
The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium called for “a negotiated solution”, saying: “What business needs is stability, certainty, simplicity and affordability.”
It was unclear on Thursday morning whether port checks have stopped, following the order issued by Mr Poots, admit legal uncertainty over his move.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politician said he had received legal advice, revealing: “The advice concluded that I can direct the checks to cease in the absence of Executive approval.”
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, claimed: “This is a decision that the minister in Northern Ireland has taken,” – denying it was a “stitch-up” between the government and the DUP.
The claim that the returned government has sovereignty on the issue made some question the basis on which the government took Remain-voting Northern Ireland out of the EU in the first place.
The suspension is being seen by many as an attempt by the DUP to increase its fading popularity ahead of crucial elections to Stormont, in May.
There were rumors in Northern Ireland that the DUP could pull its Prime Minister Paul Givan out of the power-sharing executive, with a statement expected later on Thursday.
The port checks were introduced as part of the creation of a trade barrier in the Irish Sea, agreed by Boris Johnson to pass his Brexit deal.
In its statement, the Commission said the decision “creates further uncertainly and unpredictability for businesses and citizens in Northern Ireland”.
“The European Commission will closely monitor developments in Northern Ireland pursuant to this announcement,” it said.
“The Protocol is the one and only solution we have found with the UK to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement.”