A PETITION calling on the UK Government to trigger article 16 of the Brexit agreement’s Northern Ireland protocol and introduce customs checks on the island of Ireland has reached 100,000 signatures.

The DUP has vowed to scrap the NI Protocol, which effectively creates a hard border down the Irish sea but allows free trade between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Article 16, if triggered, would move this customs border onto the island of Ireland.

On January 29, the European Commission announced plans to temporarily place export controls on the free movement of goods in respect of Covid vaccines.

To do so the EU would trigger article 16, a move Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster branded an “incredible act of hostility”.

It was revoked just hours later after Irish premier Micheal Martin’s discussions with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

READ MORE: Neale Richmond: How is the UK triggering article 16 a solution to the EU doing the same thing?​

Foster’s DUP are now looking to have article 16 triggered by the UK Government.

The petition started by the Northern Irish Unionists yesterday reached 100,000 signatures, meaning it will be considered for a debate in the House of Commons. It currently has more than 120,000 signatories.

The DUP launched the petition on Thursday February 4 as part of a five-point plan to undermine the NI Protocol.

It is named "Trigger Article 16. We want unfettered GB-NI Trade", and demands: "Her Majesty's Government must immediately remove any impediment or barrier to unfettered trade within the United Kingdom."

Foster commented: "We have made the case to the Prime Minister and now the people have made a very public appeal to the government of their country to act.

"This is not the time for more words and drawn-out processes.

"This is time for affirmative action to ensure that there is an unfettered flow of goods within the UK single market."

The news comes as some officials withdrawn from Brexit inspections at Larne Port amid safety concerns begin returning to work.

Mid and East Antrim Council has said its staff would return to work at Irish Sea trade check facilities on Friday evening following the completion of a threat assessment by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and its own subsequent risk assessment.

“The health and safety of our staff remains our top priority,” said a council spokesperson.

Inspectors employed by Stormont’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs were also withdrawn from duties on Monday evening. That move impacted both Larne and Belfast.

The department had not yet made a decision on their return on Friday evening.

A spokesperson said: “The department has received the findings of the formal threat assessment from the PSNI and is currently considering it alongside its own internal risk assessment.

READ MORE: EU stops free flow of Covid jags into Northern Ireland to close UK 'back door'

“Any decision to recommence full checks will be informed by both documents.”

EU officials overseeing the implementation of the new checks were also withdrawn from duties on Monday.

Inspections on animal-based produce arriving from Great Britain, which are required under the contentious Northern Ireland protocol, were suspended at Belfast and Larne ports after menacing graffiti appeared.

Police blamed the graffiti and menacing online comments on disgruntled individuals and small groups and have made clear there is no evidence of wider paramilitary involvement in threats.

The council workers’ return to duties was announced as the European Commission said it was exploring all “flexibilities” available within Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade deal.

President Ursula von der Leyen recognised particular concern around the health certification of imported food products.

Unionists and loyalists believe Northern Ireland’s position within the UK has been undermined by the new trading arrangements.

Von der Leyen told Northern Ireland Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey: “I can assure you that the Commission has been exploring all flexibilities available under the applicable rules of Union law and within the framework of the protocol, in order to facilitate the implementation of the protocol, whilst fully protecting the integrity of the Union’s single market and customs union.”

Foster has said Unionist frustrations at the trade border on the Irish Sea must be channelled through constitutional means.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable Simon Byrne has warned of a “febrile” atmosphere.

Foster’s sentiment was echoed by Irish premier Micheal Martin who has said parties needed to “dial down the rhetoric” over the protocol amid rising tensions.

READ MORE: Westminster plots to send prince to live in Scotland to stop SNP and save Union

Supermarket shelves were partially emptied of fresh goods at the start of the year and some businesses based in Great Britain were ill-prepared for the extra paperwork required when shipping goods to Northern Ireland.

Some parcel deliveries have also been affected and a series of grace periods limiting the extent of new regulatory and customs processes on incoming goods from GB are due to expire as the year progresses.

Sinn Fein’s Caoimhe Archibald welcomed the Commission President’s commitment.

She said: “This shows that the EU is willing to work on practical solutions to the remaining problems which have resulted from Brexit and our exit from the EU.

“While we condemn the events of last week relating to Article 16, we are assured that the EU have learned lessons and are committed to making the protocol work.

“We call on the British government to show the same resolve by committing to proper solutions to the practical issues.”