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Hard Brexit in Northern Ireland would put police officers’ lives at risk warns head of PSNI warns

Hard Brexit in Northern Ireland would put police officers’ lives at risk with subsequent disruption, head of PSNI warns

  • Northern Ireland Police Chief Simon Byrne warned of physical checkpoints
  • He said physical border presented ‘threat’ to officers and return to ‘dark days’ 
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland is down 500 officers from 2010 with 6,746
  • Officers from Great Britain have been trained and on standby for serious cases

Northern Ireland’s chief constable has warned officers would be in ‘direct threat of attack’ if they had to patrol border checkpoints following a hard Brexit. 

Simon Byrne said officers would struggle to police a physical border and there would be at risk of returning to the ‘dark days’ of 30 years ago. 

Byrne referenced four attacks in recent weeks where officers going about their daily duties had been targeted with the aim of being killed or injured. 

He said fixed targets such a checkpoints on the border would present a risk of vulnerability.    

The chief constable told The Guardian: ‘We are very clear here. We do not support the establishment of checkpoints or monitoring cameras right near the border and we’d be very reluctant to be drawn there because of the threat to our officers.’ 

Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland Simon Bryne said there is a ‘threat to our officers’ in the case of a physical border following a hard Brexit 

He added: ‘History shows us that far more police officers and 20,000 soldiers could not protect the border, so I doubt we are going to do it now.’  

Byrne said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was already under a huge strain and dissident republicans had already tried to kill its officers with only ‘luck’ preventing their murder.   

The police chief said there could be civil protests where people from the farming communities block roads and the PSNI are planning for these challenges post-Brexit.  

Byrne said the PSNI are 'stretched' after losing 500 frontline staff since 2010. The force total is 6,746

Byrne said the PSNI are ‘stretched’ after losing 500 frontline staff since 2010. The force total is 6,746 

Byrne said officers from Great Britain were also on standby in the case of sustained and multiple sites of disorder.  

Officers from Great Britain would do lower-risk jobs to allow PSNI officers to carry out greater risk tasks. 

However the police chief added there was ‘no evidence’ that a rise in attacks by dissident republicans correlated to the tensions regarding Brexit.      

‘No one wants to see a return to those dark days, and that is juxtaposed [with] the determination of what is a very small number of people to still use violence as a means to use a political end, and there isn’t a critical mass’, Byrne said. 

He feared the force had so far ‘struck lucky’ given the recent attempts to kill or injure staff and it would be a ‘chief’s nightmare’ to follow an officer’s coffin. 

He also added that border communities wanted ‘peace’ and ‘a normal life’ throughout the Brexit period. 

Byrne said: ‘The border is porous. Half a field is in one country, and half in another. They want to carry on with the fact they can take the kids to school without going through checkpoints and all that sort of anxiety. 

‘We’re conscious that normality is important. We’re conscious that anything that looks like state infrastructure in that border area could cause problems in terms of … drawing our staff into attack.’

Byrne said the PSNI were ‘stretched’ and ‘overtime is unsustainable’ after losing 500 frontline staff since 2010 bringing the force total to 6,746. 

Since becoming prime minister Mr Johnson announced plans to hire an extra 20,000 officers by 2020 costing £1.1 billion. However the policing fund does not include Northern Ireland.  

Bryne landed the job with the PSNI after leading Cheshire police and serving as an assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard. 

He was suspended as Cheshire chief constable after a number of misconduct allegations however was later cleared of all of them following an inquiry.