The UK Government has said it will not intervene in an order to stop Brexit agri-food checks at Northern Ireland ports.

Stormont's Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has instructed officials in his department to stop all checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from midnight after receiving legal advice.

The former DUP leader, whose officials are responsible for carrying out Northern Ireland Protocol checks, issued a similar instruction last year, but the checks continued after civil servants were told they were legally obliged to carry them out.

Speaking at Stormont, Mr Poots said he had received legal advice, which stated that he could order a halt to Northern Ireland Protocol checks.

"The advice concluded that I can direct the checks to cease in the absence of Executive approval," he said.

Mr Poots said he has issued a formal instruction to his permanent secretary to halt all checks that were not in place on 31 December 2020.

Stormont's Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots

It is yet unclear whether the senior civil servant in his department, Anthony Harbinson, will comply with the order.

In a statement, the UK Government said it would not interfere with the move, saying it was a "matter for the Northern Ireland Executive".

"We have been consistently clear that there are significant problems with the Protocol which urgently need fixing, which is why we are in intensive talks with the EU to find solutions."

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has also ruled out an intervention.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis

"Obviously this is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive, it is something that is within their legal remit," he told ITV's Peston programme.

"Obviously we'll be looking at the outworkings of that, exactly what the legal advice is they have taken."

Mr Lewis added that the UK had warned the EU that this scenario could develop.

'A breach of international law' - Coveney

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the British government has an "obligation to comply with international law".

"Surely that's not too much to ask as we all work to find agreement on flexible and pragmatic implementation of the NI Protocol," he said on a social media post.

Earlier today, Mr Coveney warned that any move to stop checks would effectively be "a breach of international law".

"I would remind everyone that the protocol is part of an international agreement," Mr Coveney said.

"It was agreed and ratified by the UK and the EU. Its implementation is not only part of an international treaty but is also part of international law.

"So, to deliberately frustrate obligations under that treaty, I think, would be a very serious matter indeed."

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney

While he did not name Edwin Poots or the DUP, Mr Coveney said he suspected the move was "far more about politics than it is an effort to try and find compromise".

Mr Coveney added that he hopes it does not happen.

In a social media post, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill called the move a "stunt".

"This stunt is an attempt by the DUP to unlawfully interfere with domestic, and international law," Ms O'Neill posted on Twitter.

"DUP fixated on their own priorities, which are clearly at odds with where the wider community is at. Health, Jobs, Housing, Cost of living crisis is where the rest of us are focused."

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said people are tired of "grandstanding and instability" over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

"Edwin (Poots) received clear legal advice in March 2020 when he first tried this stunt," she posted online.

Ms Long said the advice was clear that Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture is "obliged by law to undertake these checks".

She added: "Step up and do the job or step aside."

The move comes after he last week failed to secure the wider approval of the Stormont Executive to continue checks on agri-food produce arriving in Northern Ireland from Britain.

The minister argues that in the absence of Executive approval, he no longer has legal cover to continue the documentary checks and physical inspections.

Additional reporting: PA, Paul Cunningham