Press play to listen to this article
Spoken by artificial intelligence.
LONDON — After four months of intense talks (and a lot of bickering before that), the European Union and Britain have a deal to resolve their long-running post-Brexit trade dispute over Northern Ireland.
But as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak works to sell the so-called “Windsor Framework” on the Northern Ireland Protocol to Brexiteers and unionists, lawmakers on both sides of the English Channel and the Irish Sea are getting down to business.
From paperwork to facilities, let POLITICO walk you through the new deal, asking: Who laid the groundwork, and how exactly will the deal hammered out by EU and UK negotiators aim to keep the bloc’s prized single market secure?
Customs papers and checks
For businesses participating in an extended ‘trusted trader’ scheme, the Windsor framework aims to significantly reduce customs paperwork and checks on goods moving from the UK but destined to remain in Northern Ireland.
These goods will pass through a “green lane” requiring minimal paperwork and be labeled “Not for EU”, while those bound for the EU’s single market in Ireland will undergo full EU customs control at Northern Ireland ports under a “red lane ” .”
Traders in the green lane only need to fill out a single digitized certificate per truck movement, instead of multiple forms per load.
Sunak has already claimed this means “any sense of an Irish Sea border” – deeply controversial among Northern Ireland’s unionist politicians – is now “removed.”
However, there is by no means a total end to bureaucracy in the Irish Sea. An EU official said that even if the agreement brings a “dramatic reduction” in the number of physical food safety checks, for example, there will still be some – those considered “essential” to avoid the risk of goods entering the single market.
These controls will be based on risk assessments and intelligence, and aimed at preventing smuggling and crime.
Meanwhile, the UK’s public health and safety standards will apply to all food and drink retailing in the UK single market. British rules on public health, marketing, organic, labelling, genetic modification and drinks such as wine, spirits and mineral water will apply in Northern Ireland. This will remove more than 60 EU rules on food and drink in the original protocol, which were set out in more than 1,000 pages of legislation.
Supermarkets, wholesalers, hospitality and food manufacturers are likely to welcome the new arrangements. Many had stopped delivering to Northern Ireland because the cost of filling out hundreds of certificates for each shipment was deemed too high for such a small market as Northern Ireland.
Export declarations have been removed for the vast majority of goods moved from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
EU security measures: While offering to drastically reduce the amount of checks carried out, the EU has tightened the criteria for becoming a trusted trader under the extended scheme. The EU will now have access to databases that track shipments of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in real time. The system was tested over the winter, helping to build confidence in Brussels, and is fed with data from traders and the UK government. The European Commission will be able to suspend part or all of these trade easements if the UK does not comply with the new rules.
The timeline: The UK government said it will consult with businesses in the “coming months” before implementing the new rules. The green lane comes into effect this autumn. Labels for meat, meat products and minimally processed dairy products such as fresh milk will come into force from 1 October 2024. All relevant products will be labeled by 1 July 2025. “Hole-stable” products such as bread and pasta will not be labelled.
A key part of the deal is the attempt to address complaints from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – which is currently boycotting the region’s power-sharing assembly in opposition to the protocol – that lawmakers there had no say in the introduction of new EU rules in the region.
Under the terms of the new agreement, the Commission will have to give the UK government notice of future EU rules that will apply in Northern Ireland. According to Sunak, Stormont will be given a new power to “pull an emergency brake on changes to EU goods rules” based on “cross-community consent.”
Under this mechanism, the UK government will be able to suspend the application in Northern Ireland of an incoming piece of EU law at the request of at least 30 members of the assembly – a third of them. But if unionist parties in Northern Ireland want to trigger the new “Stormont brake”, they must first return to the power-sharing institutions they left last May. The EU and the UK can later agree to apply such a rule in a meeting of the Joint Committee, which oversees the protocol.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this new tool is still an emergency mechanism that hopefully will not need to be used. Another EU official said it would be triggered “in the most exceptional circumstances and as a last resort in a well-defined process” set out in a unilateral statement by Britain. These include that the rules have a “significant and lasting impact on the everyday lives of people in the region.
If the EU disagrees with the UK’s triggering of the Stormont brake, the two will resolve the issue through independent arbitration, rather than involving the European Court of Justice.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s courts will consider disputes over the application of EU rules in the region, and judges can decide whether to consult the CJEU on how to interpret them. In a key concession, the Commission has agreed not to unilaterally refer a case to the European Court of Justice, although it retains the power to do so.
EU security measures: The European Court of Justice will remain the “sole and final arbiter of EU law” and will have the “final word” in disputes in the EU’s internal market, von der Leyen stressed. Whether Brexiteers and the DUP are willing to accept that remains the million dollar question.
Tax, state aid and EU rules
The British government will now be able to set rules in areas such as VAT and state aid that will also apply in Northern Ireland – two major victories for Sunak who were rejected by the commission in previous rounds of negotiations with other British prime ministers.
That, Sunak pointed out on Monday, would allow Westminster to pass on a cut in alcohol tax that previously bypassed Northern Ireland.
But London has had to abandon the idea of establishing a dual regulatory mechanism that would have allowed companies in Northern Ireland to choose whether to follow EU or UK rules when producing goods, depending on whether they intended to sell them in the EU the single. market or in the UK The whole idea was deemed by Brussels as impossible to police.
EU security measures: Northern Irish businesses producing goods for the UK single market will only have to comply with “less than 3 per cent” of EU single market rules, a UK official said. But the nature of these regulations remains unclear and there will be increased market surveillance and enforcement by UK authorities to try to reassure the EU.
The timeline: The UK government will be able to exercise these powers once the Windsor framework comes into force.
The EU and the UK have agreed to scrap customs processes for parcels sent between consumers in the UK to Northern Ireland.
EU security measures: Parcels sent between businesses will now move through the new green lane, as is the case for other goods destined to stay in Northern Ireland. It should allow them to be monitored but remove the need to go through international customs procedures. Parcel operators will share commercial data with Britain’s tax authority, HMRC, in a bid to reduce risks to the EU’s single market.
Timeline: These new arrangements come into force in September 2024.
UK residents will be able to bring dogs, cats and ferrets into Northern Ireland without having to meet a requirement for rabies vaccinations, tapeworm treatment and other checks.
Pets traveling from Northern Ireland to the UK and back will not be required to have documentation, declarations, checks or health treatments.
EU security measures: Microchipped pets will be able to travel with a lifetime pet travel document issued free of charge by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Pet owners will tick a box in the travel booking acknowledging that they accept the rules of the scheme and will not move their pet to the EU.
The timeline: The new rules come into force in autumn 2023.
Medicines approved for use by Britain’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, will automatically be available in all pharmacies and hospitals in Northern Ireland, “at the same time and under the same conditions” as in the UK, von der Leyen said.
Companies must secure approval for a UK license from the MHRA to supply medicines to Northern Ireland, rather than having to go through the European Medicines Agency. The agreement removes all the EU directive on falsified medicines for packaging, labeling and barcode requirements for medicines. This means manufacturers will be able to produce a single medicine pack design for the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland.
Drugs sent to Northern Ireland from the UK will be exempt from customs paperwork, checks and duties, with traders only required to provide standard commercial information.
EU security measures: Medicines traveling from the UK to Northern Ireland will do so via the new green lane, which will have monitoring built in to protect the single market.
The timeline: The UK government said it will soon work with the pharmaceutical industry on these changes.
The agreement lifts the Protocol’s ban on seed potatoes entering Northern Ireland from the UK, and its ban on trees and shrubs deemed to be at “high risk” to the EU’s single market. This will enable garden centers and other businesses in Northern Ireland to sell 11 native species to the UK and some from other regions.
The Windsor framework also removes sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls on all these plants, removing red tape on their shipment to Northern Ireland.
EU security measures: Supplying businesses will need to obtain a Northern Ireland Plant Health Label, which will be the same as the Plant Passport already required in the UK, but with the addition of the words “for UK use only” and a QR code linking to regulations.
The timeline: The new arrangement and the lifting of the bans will come into force in the autumn.