The Windsor Framework – what does it mean for you?

March 30, 2023
The Windsor Framework – what does it mean for you?

On Wednesday last week (22 March 2022) Parliament voted in favour of what has become known as the Windsor Framework. To a large extent, this represents the last chapter of the UK’s Brexit drama.

For businesses it sets up new, and more practical, trade rules.

For politicians, the clear majority of votes in favour draws a line under the turmoil that began in 2016.

The new agreement between the UK and EU aims to manage the unusual status of Northern Ireland – which is part of the UK (outside the EU) but part of the island of Ireland (inside the EU).

Under the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, Northern Ireland was subject to the Northern Ireland Protocol which tried to protect the Republic of Ireland’s place in the EU single market and Northern Ireland’s place within the UK. It didn’t work.

Below we look at what the Windsor Framework means for border processes in general and food and animal products in particular.

Customs rules

There are changes to customs rules – which apply to all products – that remove declarations for goods going into NI only; remove declarations for goods leaving NI for GB; and remove declarations for parcels into NI.

Tax and regulation

The new agreement places Northern Ireland under the UK’s VAT and medicines regimes, rather than the EU’s. It allows the Northern Ireland government to veto legislation, in certain circumstances – the ‘Stormont Brake’. It reduces restrictions on how the UK government can provide aid to NI businesses.

For more information about changes to customs and regulations, this article from our partners at the Institute of Export and International Trade gives an excellent overview.

Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Controls

These are the focus of this blog. SPS controls were arguably the aspect of the NI Protocol that most noticeably affected citizens. The Protocol placed extensive paperwork requirements on GB-NI trade in food products, many of which we so onerous they were never applied.

The new agreement reduces these requirements. Below we’ve imagined a series of traders who send products to Northern Ireland containing: Products of Animal Origin (POAO), Animal by-products (ABP), regulated plant material, plants, or used agricultural or forestry machinery. We’ve looked at:

  1. Supermarkets and Suppliers of Food Retail Chains
  2. Wholesalers, Catering/Restaurant Suppliers and Food Service Operators
  3. Business-to-Consumer Sales
  4. Pet Food
  5. Plants, Seed Potatoes, and Used Agricultural or Forestry Machinery
  6. If you cannot meet the scheme requirements
  7. Food sent to NI for Further Processing
  8. NI to GB

Supermarkets and Food Retail Suppliers

There’s good news for supermarkets.

A lorry will only require a single, fairly simple ‘general certificate’. This certificate confirms that the goods are intended for sale in Northern Ireland only and meet EU rules for animal and plant health. This is close to current practice.

Goods must meet UK standards and can come from GB, the EU, or a third country (subject to certain conditions). They must leave and arrive at establishments listed import/export in GB and NI.

Goods have to be packed for retail use and labelled as not for sale in the EU. NI authorities will check ertificates remotely, so most lorries will enter without being stopped.

A real benefit is that fresh meat preparations – like sausages and haggis – are no longer banned. They can enter NI under the general certificates described above.

Supermarkets will be able to reestablish direct GB-NI supplies for these items.

In principle, the process should be fairly straightforward. However, there are a few things to keep in mind that complicate it:

  • The draft certificate proposed by the EU requires a certifying officer of the UK competent authority to sign it (currently this is signed by the trader). Defra have indicated that this will be done remotely and perhaps automatically, but it’s unclear if the EU will accept this.
  • The labelling requirement will not be easy to achieve given supermarkets often pick goods for NI from goods destined for other parts of the UK. They will have to choose whether to label everything as not for sale in the EU or only select and label items destined for NI.
  • Some trucks may still be subject to identity and physical checks. The checks will begin at 10% in October 2023 and reduce to 5% by July 2025. Meeting the labelling requirements within the agreed timescale will be a condition for the reduction in checks.
  • Goods originating from outside GB/EU can be part of this scheme, but the UK has to apply relevant import controls that match the EU controls and the commodities have to be listed by the EU.

Wholesalers, Catering/Restaurant Suppliers and Food Service Operators

Traders supplying NI with bulk supplies can join the scheme outlined above, using one general certificate per lorry – provided they meet the necessary requirements. This will expand the categories of goods sent from GB to NI as more traders join the scheme.

It will also provide greater confidence for UK-based suppliers to NI schools, hospitals, restaurants, business canteens, etc. Although these goods must still be packaged and individually labelled (with some exceptions), the packs could be catering-level packs.

Examples of the establishments in Northern Ireland be able to receive these goods include:

  • shops and supermarkets
  • supermarket distribution points
  • cold stores
  • wholesalers
  • catering operators
  • canteens
  • institutions such as schools and hospitals
  • food service operators
  • businesses sending goods direct to consumers.

Business-to-Consumer Sales

The new agreement cuts the paperwork that prevents many B2C businesses from sending regulated goods – like food products – to NI after Brexit.

Garden seed suppliers, for example, who ship directly to consumers will benefit from the scheme. In addition, parcels will no longer require customs declarations so small scale e-commerce sales between GB and NI look likely to become viable again.

However, each package will need to have a certificate as mentioned above. How easy this is will be in reality depends on what a signature by the ‘competent authority’ means.

Pet Food

Pet food and dog chews will fall under the scheme – as long as they meet the requirements. This makes the ad hoc process that has applied since the UK left the EU into an official one.

Plants, Seed Potatoes, and Used Agricultural or Forestry Machinery

Here, the proposals contain welcome news. Traders qualifying as Professional Operators will be able to send plants for planting, seed potatoes and used agricultural and forestry machinery using a simple plant health label. It’s important to note that the recipient must also be a Professional Operator.

These items are currently very difficult to send, so this is great news for garden centres, nurseries, their customers and relevant parts of the agricultural and forestry industries. This only applies to goods destined for NI, but not if they are destined for RoI.

Traders in all plants and plant material that fall outside the retail scheme or the exemptions above will have to meet the EU’s phytosanitary regime. Therefore, unless exempt or prohibited, they will require a phytosanitary certificate.

If you cannot meet the scheme requirements

Some businesses will fall into one of the above categories but may find it difficult to meet the requirements of the scheme.
For some, the costs of packaging and labelling requirements will be too high. Some may trade with both the Republic of Ireland and NI, but only determine which goods cross the border and which do not after they arrive in NI.

Businesses that cannot meet the scheme requirements will have to apply the full EU imports regime. This involves EHCs and phytosanitary certificates and relevant prohibitions will also apply (see below). See our Food and Drink Exports Explained by Trade Experts for more information.

These traders will need to be aware of three EU trade rules:

  • Goods in retail packs which originate in the EU, but are only stored in GB and not re-packed or processed, will require the appropriate ‘storage’ EHC as they do now.
  • The EU’s triangular trade restrictions will apply. Therefore, any goods containing Products of Animal Origin which:
    originate from a third country or the EU,

    • are not processed in GB and
    • are not eligible for a storage EHC

will no longer be able to be sent to NI, even with an EHC.

EU restrictions on trade in meat preparations (such as sausages) will apply – so these will not be able to be sent to NI, even with an EHC.

Food Sent to NI for Further Processing

Food containing regulated products of animal origin or plant material (or animal by-products) sent to NI for processing will not be able to benefit from the above scheme.

Traders will have to apply the full EHC and phytosanitary regime and apply the EU’s triangular trade restrictions as above. However, they should still benefit from the paperwork reductions as a result of the customs and excise proposals referred to at the beginning of this article.

NI to GB

Finally, what stays the same?

The Windsor Framework does not alter the rules for the trade in regulated goods from NI to GB, which continue as they were before the UK left the EU.

Overall, businesses trading with Northern Ireland – particularly those subject to sanitary and phytosanitary controls – should welcome these proposals. However, they won’t benefit everyone – and for some businesses there may be some tricky details to navigate.

For more information, contact