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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Edwin Poots makes a statement to the media outside Stormont Castle in Belfast

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LONDON (Reuters) – A senior Northern Irish unionist called on Tuesday for calm after a local council withdrew port staff over concerns for their safety and the European Union acted “crassly” to try to prevent vaccine exports through the Irish border.

Many pro-British unionists fiercely oppose the new trade barriers introduced between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom as part of the Northern Ireland protocol, a standalone deal for the region after Britain left the EU.

“These things have certainly created a lot of tension in the community,” Democratic Unionist Party politician Edwin Poots told BBC radio, adding that it was difficult for politicians to restrain the anger in the community.

“It’s time for calm heads and for wise behavior,” Poots said. He cast the EU’s attempt to restrict vaccine exports across the Irish border as a “crass act.”

A “blunder” by EU officials in briefly invoking and abruptly reversing emergency powers in the Northern Ireland protocol during a showdown with Britain over COVID-19 vaccines in recent days further angered unionists.

Northern Ireland temporarily suspended some post-Brexit checks at two ports on Monday after a local council withdrew staff over concerns for their safety and police said they planned to increase patrols at points of entry.

The council whose staff inspected goods at Larne Port said serious concerns around their safety were raised after a rise in “sinister and menacing behaviour” in recent weeks, including the appearance of graffiti describing port staff as “targets”.

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