The Windsor Framework Agreement: A New Way Forward for Northern Ireland and the UK
On 27 February 2023, the UK Government published details of the agreement in principle reached between the EU and UK regarding the Windsor Framework.
The Northern Ireland Protocol has created political, economic, and societal difficulties since its implementation two years ago. Communities and businesses in Northern Ireland view the rigorous implementation of the Protocol as unworkable, leading to lasting economic and political damage.
UK Government’s Responsibilities
As the sovereign Government in Northern Ireland, the UK Government has political and constitutional responsibilities under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement to address these concerns. The Government has been intensively pursuing the changes necessary to find new arrangements that safeguard the 1998 Agreement in all its parts, and uphold Northern Ireland’s integral place in the United Kingdom.
Overview of the Windsor Framework Agreement
The Windsor Framework (‘the agreement’) fundamentally amends the text and provisions of the original Protocol to uphold Northern Ireland’s integral place in the United Kingdom, address the democratic deficit, and set out a new way forward.
New UK Internal Market System for Internal Trade
The agreement puts in place a full set of new arrangements through a new UK internal market system (or green lane) for internal trade. This will free goods being sold in Northern Ireland from unnecessary paperwork, checks, and duties, using only ordinary commercial information rather than customs processes or complex certification requirements for agri-food. Trade moving into the EU will be subject to normal third country processes and requirements.
These new arrangements will be underpinned by new data-sharing arrangements, using commercial data and technology to monitor trade flows, rather than relying on international customs procedures that were inappropriate for UK internal market movements. In the process, the border in the Irish Sea for internal UK trade has been removed, protecting Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK internal market.
There are many areas of goods rules within the scope of the old Protocol where no international or EU standards apply – in retail sectors like jewelry, clothes, homeware, footwear and furniture, covering a quarter of Northern Ireland manufacturers. In those cases, UK national rules set the standards for goods on the market in Northern Ireland. Across significant sectors of Northern Ireland’s economy, businesses already make goods to the same standards, whether in Carlisle or Craigavon, and that will continue under this deal.
In manufacturing, international standards apply in practice, with commitments from the UK and EU in the TCA to maintain them. Of the nearly 3,600 international goods standards in place, there are differences between the UK and EU in only 11 of them (0.3% of standards overall). These reflect minor differences in practice, where the UK has applied higher standards (which Northern Ireland traders can still choose to meet).
The UK has published instruments that make up this overall package. The next meeting of the UK-EU Joint Committee is expected to approve them next month. After that, the UK and EU will respectively take forward legislative measures to translate the solutions into law in both legal orders, providing the basis for these new arrangements to enter into force.
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