LONDON (AP) — A judge in Belfast on Friday suspended an order by Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister to halt border checks on goods from the rest of the U.K. that were imposed under the Brexit agreement struck between the U.K. and the European Union.

High Court judge Adrian Colton made the interim order pending a full hearing into the legality of the decision by Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots.

Poots sparked a political crisis when he ordered officials to stop checks on agri-food products at midnight on Wednesday.

Civil servants have continued the checks amid legal uncertainty, and Poots’ decision is being challenged in the courts. Colton made a ruling “to suspend the instruction given by the minister for agriculture until further order of this court.”

A full court hearing is expected to be held next month.

The border checks were imposed as part of the divorce deal agreed on when Britain left the EU in 2020. Northern Ireland is the only part of the U.K. that shares a land border with an EU member country — Ireland — and was given special post-Brexit status.

The two sides agreed to keep Northern Ireland inside the EU’s tariff-free single market for goods to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland — a key pillar of Northern Ireland’s peace process. That created a new customs border in the Irish Sea for goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. even though they are part of the same country.

The arrangement has brought red tape and supply problems for some businesses, and it has angered Northern Ireland’s British Unionists, who say the checks undermine Northern Ireland’s place in the U.K. and destabilize the delicate political balance upon which peace rests.

Mounting anger by the largest Unionist political force, the Democratic Unionist Party, led to Poots’ announcement. It was followed Thursday by the resignation of First Minister Paul Givan, a DUP politician who headed Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government.

The move means Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein also must step down, plunging the Northern Ireland executive into chaos.

Sinn Fein has called for an early election for the Northern Ireland Assembly. They are currently scheduled to be held in May.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said the party would only return to government if Britain and the EU resolved the “instability” caused by the trade arrangements, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“There is no consensus for the Protocol,” he said. “There is now an opportunity for the U.K. government and the EU to step up to the mark and to deliver an agreement that resolves these issues that can be done quickly.”

The British government has criticized the DUP’s actions, but hasn’t intervened. Like the DUP, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government argues that the Northern Ireland trade arrangements — which it agreed to — are not working and need major change.

Months of U.K.-EU talks have failed to find a solution, and Britain has threatened to use an emergency break clause to suspend parts of the legally binding Brexit divorce agreement if no solution is found. That would trigger EU retaliation and could spiral into a trade war between the U.K. and the bloc.


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