The Windsor Framework – What does this mean for Northern Ireland? 

On 24th March this year, the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU) have officially adopted a new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, known as the Windsor Framework. The framework, which builds on the Northern Ireland Protocol, was designed to address the disagreements between the UK and the EU and make trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain (GB) easier. The Compliance People consultant Anca Alexa looks at this significant change.

A bit of background

To avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after the UK formally left the EU on 31st January 2020, the Withdrawal Agreement and the accompanying Northern Ireland Protocol were signed by both the UK and the EU on 24th January 2020.

The Northern Ireland Protocol has been in place since 1st January 2021, after the end of the Brexit transition period; however, it has led to conflict between the UK and the EU. This is because, under the Protocol, new checks were introduced at Northern Ireland’s ports applying even to GB goods due to remain in Northern Ireland.

What is the Windsor Framework?

After 2 years of negotiations between the EU and the UK to solve the trade frictions between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK as well as between the UK and the European Single Market*, a new deal, called the Windsor Framework, was reached.

The Windsor Framework, signed and formally adopted on 24th March 2023, is a new legal agreement between the UK and the EU designed to address the disagreements under the Northern Ireland Protocol. Although the Framework makes significant changes to the Protocol, it is important to note that it is not a replacement for it. The Northern Ireland Protocol continues to apply – the difference is that it will operate more efficiently once the Framework is implemented.

*The European Single Market is a single market comprising the 27 EU Member States and, with certain exceptions, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the Agreement on the European Economic Area, and Switzerland through bilateral agreements.

Main changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol

The key changes to the Protocol are outlined below.

  • A green-red lane system for goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain to reduce checks and paperwork at Northern Irish ports.
    • A green lane for goods due to remain in Northern Ireland, which will not need checks or additional paperwork.
    • A red lane for goods due to be sent on to the Republic of Ireland / the EU, which will still be subject to checks.
  • Simplified checks and controls on agri-food (food and other agricultural products).
    • UK public health standards will apply to GB agri-food goods moved to Northern Ireland.
    • Previously prohibited products from GB (e.g. sausages) will now be allowed into Northern Ireland.
    • Lorries carrying agri-food products will only need a single certificate (plus a description of the goods) instead of multiple certificates for each product.
  • Minimal customs processes for online businesses sending parcels to individuals in Northern Ireland.
  • Northern Ireland will no longer have to follow certain EU rules, such as VAT and alcohol duties. For example, energy-saving products (e.g. heat pumps and solar panels) can have zero VAT, as in GB.
  • Medicines in Northern Ireland will be regulated by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and all UK-approved medicines can be sold there.
  • A “Stormont Brake” mechanism, which will allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to object to certain EU laws (except laws on State aid, the single electricity market, or customs code changes) if they significantly impact everyday life. The process will be triggered if 30 Northern Ireland politicians from 2 or more parties sign a petition.

N.B. The changes are not expected to be implemented until autumn 2023 and into 2024 due to the large amount of work required to facilitate the new planned systems.

In conclusion, the new deal aims to address the challenges (e.g. delays and extra costs) faced by many businesses operating in Northern Ireland. The Framework improves on the Protocol in many ways, but some conflicts and objections remain, especially since the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party, voted against it. The extent of any remaining frictions will depend on how well the new green-red lane system at Northern Irish ports and the rest of the changes will work.

If you want to read more about the Windsor Framework, you can click here to access the full report from the UK Parliament. As for any new legislative changes concerning the Framework that may apply to your organisation, Legislation Update Service subscribers should just continue to keep an eye on your New In Your Register where we will keep you up to date as any changes are made.