What the Windsor Framework achieves
BENFITS OF THE WINDSOR FRAMEWORK
The Northern Ireland Protocol had upset the delicate balance of the Good Friday Agreement and was a major cause of the disagreements which caused the power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland to collapse.
We always wanted and needed a negotiated solution to address this, and finally we have a deal on the table which we believe all parties and communities in Northern Ireland should be able to live with.
The Windsor Framework announced yesterday will act to rebalance the Protocol, restore the consent of all communities , and chart a new way forward for Northern Ireland.
The Windsor Agreement achieves this by:
(1) Delivering free flowing trade by removing the border in the Irish Sea
- A new Green Lane for goods travelling to NI with no more customs bureaucracy or routine checks
- Removing the ban on supermarket food like sausages – so what is available in GB will be available in Northern Ireland
- Scrapping customs for post and parcels so it’s easier to send gifts and shop online
- Abolishing export declarations for goods going from Northern Ireland to the GB mainlane
- Solving the issue of steel movements into NI and also implementing a tariff reimbursement scheme
(2) Safeguarding Northern Ireland’s place in our Union
- Ensuring UK tax policy applies to the whole of the UK – meaning cheaper beer and VAT in NI
- Tackling the ‘reach back’ of EU state aid law so businesses can trade and invest freely in NI
- The same medicines available across the UK – with the same packaging and the same labels
- Removing the ban on English oaks and Scottish seed potatoes being available in NI garden centres
- People can travel freely with their pets in and out of NI
(3) Restoring sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland by eliminating the democratic deficit
- A brand new STORMONT BRAKE , allowing NI to block new EU laws via a new UK veto
- Placing the Windsor Agreement in international law by subjecting it to the Vienna Convention
This achieves what many people thought was impossible:
scrapping 1,700 pages of EU law and making radical, permanent, legally binding changes, including to the Protocol Treaty text to end the presumption of dynamic alignment and end the ratchet of EU law.
No further threat of unilateral action.
As a result of today’s Windsor Agreement, we do not need the Protocol Bill , have no legal basis for it , and will not proceed with it .
Above all, today’s deal delivers certainty for the people of Northern Ireland.
Now is the time to move forward as one country – and one United Kingdom.
Why the Northern Ireland Protocol needs to change to make Brexit work for the whole country
• The Northern Ireland Protocol has upset the delicate balance of the Good Friday Agreement. At the heart of that agreement is respect for the aspirations and identities of all communities – but the old Protocol has lost the consent of the Unionist communities and caused the institutions of power - sharing to collapse.
That is why we need, and have agreed with the EU, a new settlement to regain the support of all communities, restore the balance of the Good Friday Agreement , and chart a new way forward for Northern Ireland.
The new Windsor Agreement achieves this by delivering free flowing trade by removing the border in the Irish Sea, safeguarding Northern Ireland’s place in our Union, and restoring sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland.
Delivering free flowing trade by removing the border in the Irish Sea
• A new Green Lane for goods travelling to NI with no more customs bureaucracy or checks.
The old Protocol subjected goods moving from GB to NI to complex customs checks , creating extra costs and paperwork for businesses. Today’s new Agreement establishes a new Green Lane for goods destined for NI, with a separate Red Lane for goods going to the EU. Open to the widest range of UK businesses, it will scrap customs paperwork (replacing it with data sharing of ‘ordinary commercial information’ as we promised in July 2022) and scrap routine checks and tests, except those required to stop smugglers and criminals.
We are also permanently protecting tariff - free movement of all types of steel into Northern Ireland, and scrapping export declarations for goods moving from NI to GB.
• Removing the ban on supermarket food like sausages – so what is available in GB will be available in Northern Ireland.
Three - quarters of food sold in NI supermarkets comes from the rest of the UK – but the old Protocol meant more checks, with lorries needing hundreds of certificates for each movement. This week's new Agreement delivers a Green Lane for food retailers: lorries will make just one simple, digital declaration to confirm that goods will remain in NI, visual inspections will be cut from 100 per cent of lorries to just 5 per cent, and physical checks will be scrapped except for fraud, smuggling or disease prevention . And the new Agreement delivers dual regulation for food: if it is available on supermarket shelves in GB, then it will be available on supermarket shelves in NI. And there will be no need for vets inspecting crates in warehouses.
• Scrapping customs for post and parcels so it’s easier to send gifts and shop online.
Under the old Protocol, every single parcel travelling between GB and NI would be subject to full customs processes – a long, complex card for just a birthday present. The new Agreement completely removes customs processes for consumer parcels – something that has never been achieved before. Parcels from people or businesses in GB can now be sent to friends and family in NI without customs declarations, processes or extra costs – and online retailers can serve customers in NI exactly as they did before.
Safeguarding Northern Ireland’s place in our Union
• Ensuring UK tax policy applies to the whole of the UK.
Under the old Protocol, the UK Chancellor cut VAT or beer duty in pubs – but it didn't apply in NI. This week’s new Windsor Framework Agreement means that UK tax policy will now apply to the whole of the UK: meaning zero VAT on solar panels in NI, and cheaper beer in NI pubs by cutting the cost of a pint across the UK.
• Tackling the ‘reach back’ of EU state aid law .
Under the old Protocol , EU state aid rules ‘ reached back ’ into the rest of the UK, hampering the UK government’s ability to provide aid. The new Agreement tackles this ‘reach back’ by imposing stringent new tests and a much higher threshold than the Protocol, meaning the UK government has the freedom it needs with regard to State Aid.
• The same medicines available across the UK – with the same packaging and the same labels .
Eighty per cent of NI’s medicines come from the GB mainland; under the old Protocol, drugs approved for use by the UK’s medicines regulator are not automatically available in NI, with expensive checks and different packaging and labels. The new Agreement does something unprecedented: it provides dual regulation for medicines. The UK’s regulator will now approve all drugs for the whole UK, including NI, and there will be no role for the European Medicines Agency. The same medicines, in the same packs and with the same labels, can now be available in every pharmacy and hospital throughout the UK. And dual regulation means that NI’s world - leading healthcare industry can still trade with both the UK and EU markets.
• Removing the ban on English oak trees and Scottish seed potato es in NI garden centres.
Under the old Protocol, quintessentially British products – such as Jubilee oak trees and Scottish seed potatoes – were banned from going to NI. The new Windsor Framework Agreement lifts this ban on shrubs, plants and seed potatoes going to NI, and means plants, seeds, and farming machinery can now move freely around the UK using the existing UK Plant Passport scheme.
• People can travel freely with their pets across the whole UK.
The new Agreement means that people now have complete freedom to move their pets between GB and NI – scrapping the need for vet certificates and needless rabies jabs. Instead, pet owners visiting Northern Ireland just need to make sure their pet is microchipped and tick a box when booking their travel.
Restoring sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland by eliminating the democratic deficit
• A brand new Stormont Brake, allowing the Northern Irish people to block new EU laws.
The old Protocol meant the EU could impose new or amended laws on the people of NI without them having a say – that is undemocratic. To address this, the new Agreement introduces a new Stormont Brake: once it starts to function again, the Northern Ireland Assembly can enable the UK government to veto application in Northern Ireland of new EU laws through a ‘petition of concern’ mechanism under the Good Friday Agreement, requiring the support of 30 members of the Stormont assembly from at least two parties.
That mean s new EU laws can be blocked if they do not have the support of both communities.
This has been introduced by renegotiating the Treaty to end the presumption of dynamic alignment and end the ratchet of EU law.
• Placing the Windsor Agreement in international law by subjecting it to the Vienna Convention.
The EU have explicitly accepted in the Political Declaration that the Treaty is subject to the Vienna Convention, meaning that unequivocally, the legal basis for the Windsor Agreement is in international law. So this achieves a LEGALLY BINDING change.
• This new agreement makes permanent changes to the Protocol Treaty text. It rewrites the dynamic alignment text, ending the ratchet of EU law and providing a firm guarantee of democratic oversight.
• A range of other legally binding changes. Alongside Treaty amendments, this amends the application in Northern Ireland of core areas of EU law on goods movement and agrifood, and makes legally binding Joint Committee Decisions and further declarations by the UK and EU with effect in international law.
• This effectively scraps the application in Northern Ireland of 1,700 pages of EU law. The proportion of EU law which still applies in Northern Ireland is now reduced to less than 3 per cent.
• Doesn’t the NI Protocol Bill provide a better option ?
The UK government was always clear when introducing that Bill that a negotiated deal was Britain's preference rather than unilateral action. Now that the EU has agreed a much more reasonable position, the legal basis of the Northern Ireland protocol Bill, providing as a last resort for unilateral action in the absence of such reasonable co-operation, has now fallen away. So there, is no longer any lawful justification for proceeding with it.
The Bill was also never a perfect solution – the UK remained under an international law obligation to accept ECJ jurisdiction and it accepted dynamic alignment, with all EU rules applying.
Although their argument was never entirely valid, the mere existence of the NI protocol bill could be, and was, pointed to for propaganda purposes by regimes which are opposed to a rules based international order such as Putin's Russia and used to wrongly suggest that Britain does not care about keeping our word as a nation. This is one of a number of reasons why I was never comfortable with that bill and totally support the government's decision to drop it: insofar as there was any justification for even having the bill on the floor of the commons was a negotiating tactic while the other party was being unreasonable, and you don't continue with that kind of tactic when your opponent starts being reasonable and moves a long way in your favour, as I think all sides recognise the EU has now done.
The Windsor Agreement gives Britain all benefits envisaged when the Bill was put forward. With the Stormont Brake the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland can veto and permanently disapply in Northern Ireland any new EU rules that come down the track, and which would cause an issue f or NI people and businesses.
The new Agreement also removes the seven legal challenges from the EU, and it permanently removes the border down the Irish Sea, delivering free flowing trade. The passage of the NI protocol Bill would also take a lot of scarce parliamentary time best used to address other issues, and the bill would provide an uncertain and legally challenged basis for arrangements, where by contrast the new Agreement provides certainty and stability and crucially, can start making a difference to businesses and com munities immediately.
• Shouldn’t the role of the EU laws be removed completely?
We have scrapped 1,700 pages of EU law that got in the way of internal UK trade. Less th an 3 per cent of EU rules apply in NI, which are the minimum necessary to ensure that there is no hard border between NI and Ireland, and NI retains privileged access to the EU market.
However this only remains the case as long as there is consent through the democratic consent vote in 2024. We have also introduced a new Stormont Brake, meaning the Northern Ireland Assembly can permanently block new EU rules where they impact day - to - day lives.
• Does this Agreement deliver complete dual regulation ?
The Agreement delivers dual regulation in critical areas like food retail and medicines (ensuring that products available in GB are available in NI.) Furthermore, NI businesses, consistent with the UK Internal Market Act 2020, will have full unfettered access to the UK market (and maximum access to the EU at the same time).
However the Agreement also recognises that NI businesses specifically asked us to protect their supply chains in dairy, meat, manufacturing and other key sectors to avoid the burdens of producing to different regulatory standards.
In practice, for manufacturing, these are international standards anyway that the EU and UK both commit to use in the TCA. And in many areas of goods, there are no international or EU standards at all (e.g. clothing, furniture, homeware,footw ear or bikes) so UK standards are used.
It is also worth remembering that agri - food rules already differ across the UK due to devolution , the key is that whatever is produced in one part of the UK can be sold unfettered elsewhere – this Agreement delivers that for NI. Finally, the current regime only applies as long as the people of NI continue to vote for it to be maintained and the new Stormont Brake puts NI in control of deciding what to do with any new EU laws that arise.