The Scottish government could be set to impose checks on some goods arriving from the Republic of Ireland via Northern Ireland at the Scottish port of Cairnryan from 1 January, reports the Daily Telegraph.
The move is set to be controversial, as the UK government has promised unfettered access for goods from Northern Ireland entering Great Britain.
The health checks also have the potential to threaten the substance of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement as this gives the UK government in Westminster – and not the Scottish government in Edinburgh - the power to define which Northern Ireland goods are eligible for access to the UK’s internal market.
The matter is complicated by the fact that, unlike basic customs checks, the power to apply sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks – to protect against disease, pests and contaminants – is devolved to the Scottish government, meaning that it could effectively choose to hinder trade flows between Ireland and the UK should it wish to apply the letter of the law.
Sam Lowe, of the Centre for European Reform think tank told the outlet that he believed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would be playing with fire should she choose to go down this route, noting that the Northern Ireland Protocol is “quite a delicate balance”.
“The SNP has always had in the back of its mind that it’s unfair that Northern Ireland gets preferential access to the EU and Scotland can’t get the same. But the context is different: Northern Ireland is a post-conflict zone; Scotland isn’t", Lowe added.
A Scottish government spokesman told the Daily Telegraph that there were no immediate plans to impose new checks from 1 January, but noted that it had to “consider all risks that may be encountered for the impact of the most disruptive change the Scottish economy has seen in 40 years. We will seek urgent detailed clarity from the UK government on how it plans to operate ‘unfettered access’ between Northern Ireland and Scotland in practice”, he said.
Jessica Sargeant of the Institute for Government think tank told the Daily Telegraph that there are “legitimate reasons why the Scottish government might want to prevent goods from the Republic of Ireland coming in tariff-free”.