Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Wednesday 31 May 2023 Dublin: 14°C
Alamy Stock Photo Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
# bye bye protocol
Explainer: Pets, potatoes and the 'Stormont brake', what's the deal with the Windsor Framework?
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the new deal effectively removes “any sense of a border in the Irish Sea”.

THE UK AND the EU have agreed a new deal to tackle issues caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the new deal, called the Windsor Framework, will remove almost all checks on goods from Britain to Northern Ireland and effectively removes “any sense of a border in the Irish Sea”. 

Parties in the north have welcomed the deal, but the DUP has warned that “key issues of concern” remain in relation to the agreement, with the party now expected to extensively study the contents of it before agreeing to any return of power-sharing in Stormont.

But what exactly is the Windsor Framework, and how does it differ from the previous Protocol agreement?

Why was a new deal needed?

Signed by then-prime minister Boris Johnson in 2020, the Protocol agreement formed part of the UK government’s Brexit deal and was designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The Protocol saw checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain begin taking place at ports in the North to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The move created a headache for some businesses and enraged loyalists and unionists, with the DUP maintaining that it was undermining Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.

The party has refused to enter government in Stormont in protest at the Protocol since last year and has insisted that it will not return to government unless its demands are met. 

It had called for the checks to be removed, and for a change in what it calls the “democratic deficit” of Northern Ireland being subject to EU rules while not having a say on them.

The role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which can settle trade disputes and take action against the UK if it believes that EU law is not being respected, is also something the DUP and ERG wanted removed.

How is the new deal different to the Protocol?

The Windsor Framework, announced by Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Monday, covers a range of areas including trade, VAT regulation and the role of Stormont in EU laws that apply to Northern Ireland.

The biggest change in the deal is the creation of a new two-lane system for the flow of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland.

British goods that are remaining in Northern Ireland will be able to use the “green lane”, meaning they will not have to undergo paperwork, checks and customs controls.

Only ordinary commercial information needed, like a description of the goods and their value. To use the green lane, businesses will have to sign up to the UK Trusted Trader scheme. 

Goods going to Ireland and the rest of the EU will travel through a separate “red lane” and undergo full checks.

Customs processes for parcels have also been scrapped, which will mean that parcels can be sent between consumers in Britain and Northern Ireland without any additional requirements.

Travellers with pets have also been assured that under the agreement, they can now travel between Britain and Northern Ireland without the requirement of extra health treatments, new costs or extra documents.

Sunak said the agreement would also make drugs approved for use by the UK medicines regulator automatically available in Northern Ireland pharmacies.

The deal also covers the areas of VAT and excise duty, with Sunak saying that recent reforms “to cut the cost of a pint in a pub will now apply in Northern Ireland”.

Other measures include allowing “iconic plants” like oak trees and potatoes to move freely around the UK once again.

The potato issue has been a real one, last year Northern Ireland Minister of State Steve Baker criticised the lack of seed potato imports as a result of the Protocol. 

“It is unacceptable that essential goods used successfully in Northern Ireland for generations, like seed potatoes, can no longer reach people in Northern Ireland,“ he said.

Does the European Court of Justice still have a role?

Von der Leyen confirmed on Monday that the ECJ will still have the final say on EU law and single market issues.

“Indeed, the European Court of Justice is the sole and ultimate arbiter of EU law – that’s natural because it’s prescribed by the EU order. So the ECJ will have the final say in EU law and single market decisions,” said von der Leyen

Concerns about the oversight role of the court have been raised by the DUP and some Tory backbenchers, with the issue less about trade and more about sovereignty.

However, the UK Government believes that the new deal significantly narrows the role of the ECJ, with a new approach set to address some of the concerns of a “democratic deficit” for Northern Irish representatives in the application of EU law.

What is the Stormont brake and how does it work?

This is the part of the deal designed to solve that so-called “democratic deficit”.

The Stormont brake is an emergency mechanism which will allow the NI Assembly to stop new EU single market rules “that would have significant and lasting effects on everyday lives in Northern Ireland”.

It is described in the agreement as giving Stormont a “genuine and powerful role” in deciding whether significant new rules on goods impacting life in the region will apply.

The Stormont brake will function along the same lines as the Good Friday Agreement safeguard known as the ‘petition of concern’.

It requires the signatures of 30 of the 90 MLAs that sit in the Assembly from at least two parties to ask the UK government to apply an emergency brake that would block or delay a new EU law from taking effect in Northern Ireland. 

However, these signatures could come from two unionist parties, and would not require cross-community support, unlike the petition of concern.

The agreement specifies that the brake “will not be available for trivial reasons”. There must be something “significantly” different about a new rule, whether in its content or scope, and MLAs will need to show that the rule has a “significant impact specific to everyday life that is liable to persist” before using it.

Once the UK notifies the EU that the brake has been triggered, the EU law is suspended automatically from coming into effect in Northern Ireland and can then only be applied if the UK and EU both agree to that in their joint committee.

It remains to be seen how the arrangement will work in practice in Stormont, if power-sharing does return, but Downing Street has been clear that, once it is triggered, the brake will give the Government the power to veto any new or amended EU rule.

What happens to the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill?

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill was introduced by Boris Johnson when the EU and the UK were still in deadlock over trade arrangements in Northern Ireland. 

The bill proposed overriding the Protocol, which Johnson negotiated, by scrapping customs checks between Northern Ireland and Britain and giving UK government ministers the power to change almost every aspect of the text.

A number of Tory MPs, including former prime minister Theresa May, spoke out against the proposed legislation, while the EU launched legal action against the UK after the publication of the bill.

Sunak’s government has now said it will no longer proceed with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, as the UK and EU have come to a negotiated agreement”.

Similarly, the agreement means the EU has agreed to withdraw all of the legal actions it has launched against the UK following the publication of the Protocol bill.

What happens next? 

The Windsor Framework replaces the old Protocol agreement, but the DUP – as well as Tory Brexiteers – will now examine it and likely raise concerns regarding some of its content. 

Sunak has said a Commons vote will be held on the deal ”at the appropriate time and that vote will be respected”.

He said it was important for everyone, particularly the unionist community, to be given “the time and space they need to consider the detail of the Framework”.

The EU-UK joint committee will need to meet to formally adopt the recommendations and decisions that will implement parts of the framework.

The EU will also need to pass into law the proposed regulations in areas like medicines, checks on animals and plants, as well as adopting proposed European Council decisions, including agreeing to amend the Protocol through the joint committee decisions.

But all eyes will be on the DUP over the coming days – or possibly weeks – while it examines all aspects of the agreement and determines whether it will be enough to prompt it to return to power-sharing in Stormont. 

Contains reporting from the Press Association

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment

    Leave a commentcancel