The European Commission has strongly condemned threats against staff working in Northern Ireland ports and said it had asked EU officials working alongside their Northern Ireland counterparts under the Withdrawal Agreement not to attend work today.

Police in Northern Ireland are to hold talks later today with partner agencies after physical Brexit checks at Belfast and Larne ports were suspended amid safety concerns.

"We condemn very strongly any threat of violence against port officials or anybody else in Northern Ireland who are simply exercising their duties and implementing the Withdrawal Agreement, that must be absolutely clear," said spokesman Eric Mamer.

"Therefore in such circumstances indeed decisions have been taken by the Northern Ireland authorities to temporarily suspend a certain number of checks that are foreseen for the transfer of goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and it is obvious for us that the first and utmost priority is the safety of people."

Mr Mamer said the commission was in contact with the UK authorities on the matter in the context of security and the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

He said there will be a video conference tomorrow between Maros Sefcovic and Michael Gove, respectively the EU and UK co-chairs of the Joint Committee, which implements the Northern Ireland Protocol, alongside the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland.

"Our first priority is obviously the safety of people," said Mr Mamer.

Asked if there was any link between the alleged threats against port staff, Mr Mamer said: "Whatever the reason the threat of violence is simply unacceptable, full stop. You don't look for excuses. That must be very, very clear."

He added that information the commission had received indicated that the threats had preceded the events of last Friday, when the commission moved to trigger Article 16 of the protocol over the vaccines issue.

"It’s very clear that the threats have originated before this discussion on Article 16," he said.

Mr Mamer added that EU officials working alongside Northern Ireland officials had been asked not to attend their duties today.

He told the Commission’s daily news briefing: "Obviously the security of our staff in Northern Ireland is as high a preoccupation as that of any other person working in Northern Ireland on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

"We have asked them not to attend their duties today. We will continue to monitor the situation and adapt accordingly."

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