The UK Government must give police financial assurances they will have the resources to patrol the Irish border in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Police Federation has said.
The body representing rank-and-file officers in Northern Ireland said a failure to pay for extra recruits would force the redeployment of hundreds of policemen and women away from cities and towns to cover border crossings.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton has asked the Home Office to fund 400 extra officers to enable him to deal with the repercussions of Brexit.
Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) chairman Mark Lindsay called for “certainty, direction and clarity” around Brexit and what it will mean for policing in the region after March.
“The political turmoil around Brexit is for politicians to resolve, but what we are saying is accelerate contingency planning to prepare for what happens from April 1,” he said.
“We cannot afford to sleepwalk into a situation where, at the last minute, officers are redeployed from cities and towns such as Belfast, Ballymena or Coleraine to some of the major crossing points along the 310-mile border with the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Lindsay’s remarks come amid warnings from commanders on both sides of the border, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, that a hard Brexit could prompt an upsurge in dissident republican activity, with the border becoming a target for violent attacks.
The Democratic Unionist Party has downplayed concerns about renewed violence, dismissing some of those making that argument as “scaremongers”.
Mr Lindsay added: “We simply cannot produce 300-400 officers overnight and if Government approval for an increase in the size of the PSNI isn’t forthcoming quite soon, then we will be left to confront major gaps in service provision as we race to meet requirements in a hard Brexit scenario.
“I am appealing to all concerned to make this a major priority and to get it sorted out without further procrastination. It is much too serious an issue to leave on the long finger.”
A PSNI spokeswoman said: “There has been and continues to be high level engagement with Government about the challenges facing PSNI in the context of a severe terrorist threat, and the potential operational implications of what will become the only land Border between the UK and the EU.
“These discussions are addressing what the appropriate uplift for PSNI resources should be.”