The Windsor Framework – one of the most significant post-Brexit legal agreements – has been introduced to address the challenges surrounding the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The framework was announced on 27 February 2023, and brought into effect on 24 March 2023. Named after the meeting between UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen at the Fairmont hotel in Windsor Great Park, it aims to provide clarity and facilitate smoother trade flows.
This article will provide an in-depth analysis of The Windsor Framework, exploring its key provisions and implications for businesses involved in UK imports and exports. Our clearBorder experts provide top-level analysis and deep insight on the main changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, including international reaction, to equip you with the knowledge to navigate the evolving trade landscape successfully.
The Windsor Framework: An Executive Overview
Hailed as an “essential step to ensuring that the hard-earned peace and progress of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is preserved and strengthened” in a White House Statement by President Joe Biden, The Windsor Framework cover complex political and trade considerations resulting from Northern Ireland’s unique status.
If you’re looking for an at-a-glance summary of The Windsor Framework’s main points, read on.
- Agreement and Adoption: The Windsor Framework was announced on February 27, 2023, and formally adopted on March 24, 2023.
- Legislative Approval: While the agreement did not require formal parliamentary approval, the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak allowed a vote in the House of Commons, which took place on March 22, 2023, and passed with a large majority. This vote halted the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill that was being pursued by the UK government.
- EU Decision-Making: On the EU side, there was no single vote or decision on the Framework as a whole. Some parts of the agreement required qualified majority agreement in the Council of the European Union, while others required the consent of the European Parliament.
- Contents of the Agreement: The Windsor Framework primarily focuses on goods crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
- It introduces green and red lanes to reduce checks and paperwork on goods destined for Northern Ireland, as well as separate them from goods that may enter the EU Common Market.
- The agreement also covers aspects such as medicine control, VAT, alcohol duty, and simplified checks on agri-food products.
- The Stormont Brake: This allows the Northern Ireland Assembly to temporarily halt the application of new EU goods regulations in Northern Ireland if they have “significant and lasting effects on everyday lives”.
- The brake can be triggered by 30 Members of the Legislative Assembly from two or more parties, leading to a consultation period and potential consideration by the UK Government.
- Main Changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol: The Windsor Framework brings several significant changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, including:
- A new system of checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland
- Simplified agri-food checks
- Exemption from certain VAT limits
- Regulation of medicines by the UK’s regulator
- Stricter conditions for EU action on State aid
The Trusted Trader Scheme
The previous trusted trader scheme – or the UK Trader Scheme (UKTS) – has transitioned into the new Trusted Trader Scheme, bringing some notable changes.
The European Union has strengthened its criteria for becoming a trusted trader, introducing a real-time shipment tracking database for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Businesses that are already registered for the UKTS can expect their registration to be rolled over in September without the need for reapplication. For those looking to apply, demonstrating financial solvency and a clean customs record for the past three years will be essential.
Changes To The Northern Ireland Protocol
The Windsor Framework brings significant changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol (as detailed in the House of Commons Library), impacting trade operations between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Let’s explore some of those key changes:
- New System of Checks: The introduction of “red lanes” and “green lanes” aims to streamline the movement of goods. Goods destined for Northern Ireland will benefit from fewer checks and controls in the green lane, while goods bound for Ireland and the EU will undergo full checks in the red lane.
- Sending parcels to Northern Ireland as an Individual: Individuals will no longer require customs paperwork when sending parcels to others in Northern Ireland, simplifying the process for personal shipments.
- A Limit On the Number of Reduced and Zero Rates of VAT: Northern Ireland sees the disapplication of an EU limit on reduced and zero rates of VAT on certain goods, providing more flexibility for businesses.
- Medicines Placed on the Market in Northern Ireland: The UK regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), will now regulate all medicines in Northern Ireland, ensuring streamlined approval and availability of UK-approved medicines.
- The Stormont Brake: The framework introduces the Stormont Brake, enabling the Northern Ireland Assembly to temporarily halt the application of certain updated or amended EU laws if they “significantly impact everyday lives.” The process involves objections, consultations, and considerations by the UK Government.
- Circumstances Under Which the EU can Bring Action Against the UK: The framework establishes tighter conditions for EU actions against the UK regarding State aid rules and subsidies in Northern Ireland.
- Dropping of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill: The UK Government has agreed to abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which aimed to block certain provisions of the protocol in UK law, as part of the agreement.
The Windsor Framework has elicited varied responses from key political parties and stakeholders, both domestically and internationally. Here’s a glimpse of the reactions:
- Labour, the Scottish National Party, and the Liberal Democrats in the UK announced their support for the Framework, indicating a level of cross-party consensus.
- However, the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) sought legal advice on the Framework’s implications. The initial assessment by the lawyers criticised certain aspects of the agreement, particularly highlighting concerns over the continued supremacy of EU law in Northern Ireland and scepticism towards the effectiveness of the Stormont Brake. Their assessment was that the Stormont Brake was “likely to be useless in practice.”
- Northern Ireland political parties, including Sinn Féin, Alliance and the Social Democratic generally expressed broad support for the Framework. Despite this, they have raised questions about the operational details and desirability of the Stormont Brake.
- The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) established a panel to examine the Windsor Framework against their seven tests for supporting new arrangements.
As the international community grapples with the implications of the Windsor Framework, here at clearBorder, we will continue to monitor and analyse the reactions, providing you with comprehensive insights into its broader impact on trade and politics.
So… What Next?
Ultimately, The Windsor Framework will bring significant changes to the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, addressing problems within the Northern Ireland Protocol. Key elements of the agreement include the new system of checks, the Stormont Brake mechanism, and changes to VAT, medicine regulations, and more.
As the implementation of the Windsor Framework unfolds, it is crucial for businesses trading between Ireland, the British mainland and Northern Ireland to stay informed and adapt to the evolving landscape.
At clearBorder, we are here to support you every step of the way. Our expert trade consultants can provide the independent guidance and training your team needs to navigate these changes seamlessly.
Book a trade consultancy session with us today to ensure that your business is border-ready and equipped to optimise your import and export operations.