A Stormont minister has criticised the “huge” operating costs of Northern Ireland Protocol checks as he outlined the multimillion-pound bill for the first year in operation.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots detailed around £8.65 million of expenditure throughout 2021, but said other costs outside of his department meant the overall total was significantly higher.

Mr Poots, who last week ordered a unilateral halt to the agri-food checks, was responding to a Stormont Assembly question posed by Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister.

A High Court judge has suspended Mr Poots’s direction to stop checks on incoming GB goods pending a full legal challenge into his decision next month.

Addressing the Assembly on Tuesday, the minister said the salary costs of the additional staff needed to complete the checks at Northern Ireland ports was around £4,447,500. He said that total included almost £1 million on agency staff.

BrexitNorthern Ireland Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots (Niall Carson/PA)

He said the running costs of the checking facilities in Northern Ireland and the service contract for lorry seal checks carried out on the GB side of the Irish Sea totalled £4.2million.

Mr Poots highlighted that local council staff were also involved in the checks and that expenditure was covered through the Food Standards Agency.

He also pointed to £200 million the Government has invested in a Trade Support Service (TSS) to help companies deal with the customs processes required by the protocol.

“So the costs of the protocol to Northern Ireland is huge,” the minister told the Assembly.

“It’s extensive and you know that is why we need to get solutions. Because nobody realistically can argue that, as the protocol exists, it is good for Northern Ireland. You cannot have this burden placed upon business and this cost placed upon the taxpayer and claim it to be good.”

Mr Poots claims he cannot continue to lawfully conduct the checks without the wider approval of the Stormont Executive.

Mr Allister asked whether an absence of Executive approval meant the expenditure incurred to date was unlawful.

“Doesn’t this in fact mean that this is irregular spend, which would cause the accounts of the department to be qualified and another illustration of the squander at a time when vital services are so short of money,” he said.

Mr Allister said the money could have employed 200 nurses for a year.

SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole said onlookers would be “darkly amused” by Brexiteers talking about economic costs of their own project.

He said the Office for Budget Responsibility had forecast that Brexit would result in a long term 4% hit to the UK economy.

“That is, in cash terms, £80 billion a year in revenue,” he said.

“Do he and Mr Allister, who asked the question, think that is good value for taxpayers’ money?”

Mr Poots responded by claiming that the UK economy was growing faster than EU member states.

“So let’s be very clear, the UK is not on its knees as a consequence of Brexit in spite of the desires of the remoaners,” he said.

Mr Poots said if a variety of protocol grace periods were to end and the arrangements implemented in full, Northern Ireland would not have enough vets to conduct the required number of checks.

“I’m not sure where the EU thinks we’re going to magic these vets up from,” he said.

The minister branded the EU stance as “bizarre” and said the position of its supporters at Stormont “beggared belief”.