The Windsor Framework was unveiled on Monday 27 February 2023, to address the Northern Ireland import protocols of goods from the UK. The negotiations were spearheaded and agreed by the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak and the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen with the intent of facilitating trade between the UK, Northern Ireland and the EU. The Prime Minister stated the deal “removes any sense of a border in the Irish Sea”.
The deal will in essence remove any sense of a border in the Irish sea to facilitate commercial trade with greater ease. The Prime Minister has stated that the deal ensures “customs bureaucracy will be scrapped. It means food retailers like supermarkets, restaurants and wholesalers will no longer need hundreds of certificates for every lorry”.
The deal will in essence remove any sense of a border in the Irish sea to facilitate commercial trade with greater ease. Presently, under current processes goods entering Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom must be checked at ports prior to gaining access into the Republic of Ireland. The introduction of the Windsor Framework deal will see two new routes of goods being imported into Northern Ireland, known as green and red lanes.
Green Lanes – Goods shipped from Great Britain, which are staying in Northern Ireland will use the green lane at Northern Irish ports. These shipments will require minimal paperwork and will see less scrutiny on screening – only trusted traders will be allowed to use this scheme and transport lane.
Red Lanes – This is for goods which will be transported from Northern Ireland into the European Union. Which will not see a change in customs procedures and documentation for the foreseeable future.
Parcel simplifications – This includes consumer to consumer, and business to consumer parcels under certain limitations. There will no longer be a requirement for any customs formalities or documentation.
Agri-food – This refers to retail products for end consumption within Northern Ireland, which will be able to move from Great Britain with minimal certification requirements and documentation.
Medication – Drugs that have been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will now be accessible in Northern Ireland with minimal certification requirements and documentation.
Windsor Framework enables Northern Ireland to be exempt from certain European Union VAT and excise rules. However, this deal will not end EU law in Northern Ireland nor the ultimate oversight of EU judges in limited circumstances. The deal will introduce a new ‘Stormont Brake’, with a clear process through which the Northern Irish Assembly can apply a brake on changes to EU goods laws, after which the UK Government may use a veto.
The President of the European Commision added that there are also mechanisms intended to avoid the Stormont Brake being deployed, involving extensive consultation with stakeholders in Northern Ireland before changes are made to EU law, as well as consultation with the EU on planned regulatory changes by the UK.
The Prime Minister has declared that the only EU laws applicable to Northern Ireland are the “minimum necessary” to prevent hard border with the remainder of Ireland, which will safeguard Northern Ireland’s position in the European Union as well as its peoples rights nationally in respect to trade movements.
In essence, the framework will allow Northern Ireland to zero rate VAT, other changes include:
- Removing the limit on the number of reduced and zero rates in Northern Ireland
- Establishing new categories that can be applied for VAT purpose where goods are consumed within Northern Ireland
- Exempting Northern Ireland’s businesses from a range of European Union rules – including an exemption for businesses needing to register for VAT under a 2025 EU Directive
- Establishing a brand new mechanism, enabling the UK and EU to look at future EU rule changes and make further legally binding changes to resolve any distortive impacts that new EU red tape could cause
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