The European Commission has been reassured by the UK that checks and controls on GB imports at temporary Border Control Posts (BCPs) at ports in Northern Ireland ports will continue, and will not be affected by the Northern Ireland agriculture minister's decision to cease work on the permanent facilities, according to a spokesperson.

On Friday Agriculture Minister Gordon Lyons said he was halting construction work on permanent posts and recruitment of staff because of "practical difficulties", which he said have been caused by the protocol.

"The relevant checks and controls are continuing to take place as usual," said spokesperson Dan Ferrie.

However, the Commission said the UK was obliged to complete the permanent facilities at Northern Ireland's ports by mid 2021.

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"We expect the same commitment when it comes to the UK's obligations to the Protocol regarding the permanent facilities that need to be put in place by the middle of this year ... in line with the Protocol and also in line with the [EU UK] Joint Committee decisions of December," Mr Ferrie said.

He said that the EU's representative on the Joint Committee, Marcos Šefcovic, would be in contact with his new UK counterpart David Frost, who takes over from his predecessor Michael Gove as of today, "in efforts to continue our constructive efforts together on this."

Mr Ferrie added that: "It is our shared responsibility to make the Protocol work for everyone in NI and that's what we intend to do."

Yesterday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the Northern Ireland Protocol "is here to stay" despite opposition from unionist parties.

Mr Coveney said the protocol is part of an international treaty, which was negotiated to allow for the UK's departure from the EU and this is understood by the British government, the Irish Government and the EU.

The protocol was designed to allow seamless trade between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, but has caused anger among many unionists because of its requirement for checks on many goods arriving from across the Irish Sea.

Temporary border control posts are already operating.

In relation to Mr Lyons decision to halt construction work on the permanent posts and recruitment of staff, Mr Coveney said: "This is obviously a matter for the British government and the executive in Northern Ireland now, to ensure that they are compliant with their commitments under the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland and I think that's where everybody needs to focus their attention now".