Yesterday, PM Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen held a joint press conference in which they announced the new Windsor Framework. This legislation renegotiates several aspects of post-Brexit deals, particularly regarding Northern Ireland and its trade with GB and Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Protocol
The old deal, agreed upon by PM Johnson and enforced from 2021, created new checks on goods moving between the UK and the EU.
However, Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.
Therefore, to avoid a hard land border and its associated unrest, all new checks on goods arriving from GB are carried out in Northern Irish ports.
However, this was regardless of whether the goods were staying in Northern Ireland or moving onwards into the EU.
Unionist parties complained that this effectively separated Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. Meanwhile, businesses have cited rising costs associated with the increased amount of paperwork.
The Windsor Framework
This new deal has been negotiated by the Sunak government and aims to eliminate the “Irish Sea border.”
It establishes two lanes for goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain:
- The green lane: these goods will remain in Northern Ireland
- The red lane: these goods may move on to the Republic of Ireland (or other EU states)
Green lane goods will not be subject to EU regulations and their associated “red tape,” whereas red lane goods will.
It also reduces the number of EU regulations that are exercised over Northern Ireland, most notably:
- Bans on products from GB such as chilled meats
- EU standards for VAT
- EU standards for alcohol taxes
According to the EU, just 3 per cent of regulations now apply to NI, and these are strictly necessary for their participation in the Single Market.
The Stormont Brake
A legislative mechanism included in the bill is the Stormont Brake. It is an emergency measure that may only be employed when absolutely necessary.
The Brake allows Northern Ireland to petition EU rules if they have significant concerns.
As it is an emergency measure, thirty Stormont politicians from two or more parties must sign a petition. Furthermore, they must be able to explain why the new rule will negatively impact Northern Ireland.
The petition will then be sent to the UK Parliament, which will hold a veto if it sees the petition as unnecessary.
However, if the UK Parliament agrees, then it must tell the EU, which cannot implement the rule across NI.
As held by President von der Leyen, the European Court of Justice will remain the final arbiter of whether or not Northern Ireland is adequately obeying single-market rules.
The UK Parliament is bound to accept the deal, as the Government has Labour’s support.
The DUP, on the other hand, may not accept the deal.
The Stormont Brake incentivises the DUP to resume power-sharing with Sinn Féin, as the executive must be functional for them to use it.
DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that the party will consider the deal and measure it against their seven tests.
What are the DUP’s seven tests?
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson laid out the party’s seven tests for a post-Brexit deal in July 2021.
- Guarantee the sixth article of the 1800 Act of Union – the idea that any citizen in the UK is “entitled to the same privileges.”
- Avoid the diversion of trade.
- No Irish Sea border.
- Giving Northern Irish people a say in EU rules.
- No checks on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
- No checks between NI and GB, unless agreed by Stormont.
- The preservation of the “letter and spirit” of the Good Friday Agreement.
In the coming weeks, the DUP will announce whether the Windsor Framework upholds these tests or not. In the meantime, it is a meaningful step forward in the relationship between the UK and EU, after years of stalemate and difficult negotiation.
Prime Minister Sunak praised the deal as providing Northern Ireland with the “unique position.. of having privileged access to the UK home market… but also the European Union single market.”.
This is what the UK had prior to Brexit, and in the words of the PM, it will make Northern Ireland the “most exciting economic zone.”
Featured Image Credit: HM Treasury and The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP
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