UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen have recently announced a new deal, known as the Windsor Framework, to address post-Brexit issues in Northern Ireland. The agreement aims to provide a smoother transition for goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The new system will include a ‘green lane’ for goods from Britain to Northern Ireland with reduced checks and paperwork, and a ‘red lane’ for goods at risk of moving onto the EU. This will mean that food available on supermarket shelves in Great Britain will also be available in Northern Ireland. To oversee the system, new data-sharing and labelling arrangements will be put in place. In cases of suspected smuggling, some custom checks may still be carried out on green lane goods. Businesses moving goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain will not be required to complete export declarations. Bans on certain products such as chilled sausages and 11 native British trees entering Northern Ireland from Britain will be lifted.
The agreement also provides for easier movement of pets, parcels, and medicines between Britain and Northern Ireland. Pet owners visiting Northern Ireland from Britain (but not travelling on to Ireland) only have to confirm that their pet is microchipped and will not move into the EU. Medicines for use in Northern Ireland will be approved by the UK regulator, with the European Medicines Agency not having any role. Parcels will not be subject to full custom declarations, however from 2024 parcel operators will be required to share data with the EU to manage smuggling risks.
Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, EU VAT rules could have been applied in Northern Ireland, however under the new deal UK VAT and excise rules will apply to Northern Ireland for immovable goods such as heat pumps and alcoholic drinks for immediate consumption. EU VAT rules will still apply for other items.
The agreement also introduces a ‘Stormont brake’ which allows the Northern Ireland Assembly to raise an objection to a new goods rule if 30 MLAs (representatives in the Stormont Assembly) from two or more parties sign a petition. This process would then be followed by a 14 day consultation period and a vote in the assembly. The brake cannot be used for trivial reasons but is reserved for significantly different rules. If the UK and EU agree that the brake has been triggered, the rule cannot be implemented. The EU has its own safeguard – if Northern Ireland starts to diverge significantly from the bloc’s rules, the EU has its own power to take “appropriate remedial measures”.
Finally, the government has confirmed it is ditching the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which was introduced under ex-PM Boris Johnson and would have given the UK the power to scrap the old protocol deal. According to legal opinion published by the government, there is now “no legal justification” for going ahead with it.
Overall, the Windsor Framework provides a comprehensive solution for post-Brexit issues in Northern Ireland and should ensure a smoother transition for goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.