British PM Rishi Sunak and European Commissioner Chief Ursula von der Leyen finalized a new agreement, “The Windsor Framework” (details announced on 27 February 2023), which makes permanent, legally binding changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Brexit created an EU land border in Ireland. This created an issue around movement of goods between Northern Ireland in the UK and Republic of Ireland in the EU and the practicalities of ensuring importing/exporting procedures were complied with and VAT rules adhered to without creating a physical border.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was implemented on 1 January 2021 which technically created a border requiring checks down the Irish Sea. This has resulted in increased costs and disruption to trade to and through Northern Ireland and to links between Great Britain and NI. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is currently boycotting NI’s devolved government at Stormont until its concerns about post-Brexit trading arrangements have been satisfactorily addressed as its position is that the NI is not being treated as an integral part of the UK.
Key points of the new deal:
- Introduces two lanes for goods going from GB to NI – green lane with fewer checks and minimal paperwork if goods are destined for Northern Ireland and red lane if goods will be sent on to Republic of Ireland which will require customs procedures and paperwork.
- Some parcel simplifications
- Agri-food-subject to different requirements.
- Introduces a new “Stormont Break” – This is designed to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly who make the laws in NI to object to new EU rules in certain limited non-“trivial” circumstances. Process would be triggered if 30 or more NI politicians from 2 or more parties sign a petition. Created to address Unionist concerns about the imposition of Brussels regulations over which the assembly has no say. Mr Sunak claims will allow politicians a veto on new EU rules applying to NI. However, EU says the Stormont Brake is very limited in scope and only under very strict conditions. If EU not convinced, then there are joint bodies to deal with this issue and eventually this case can go to independent arbitration.
- The ECJ will still have some oversight over Northern Ireland and retains final say on whether NI is following certain EU rules.
- Changes to VAT rules.
- No specific timeframe of implementation of the new framework.