On Monday, February 27, 2023, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced a landmark post-Brexit trading arrangement, the Windsor Framework, aimed at rectifying problems created by the Northern Ireland Protocol. The protocol, negotiated and signed by Sunak's predecessor Boris Johnson, was designed to allow Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, to remain a part of Europe’s huge market so that it could trade goods freely across its land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. However, it created a de facto trade border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the Irish Sea, disrupting trade and infuriating unionist politicians in Belfast.
The Windsor Framework replaces the Northern Ireland Protocol, providing a new legal and UK constitutional framework. It creates a “green” lane that will allow goods from Britain destined for Northern Ireland to go through ports with minimal paperwork, checks and duties, while those traveling on to the Republic of Ireland will have to use a “red” lane. Anything from Britain destined for Northern Ireland will travel through the green lane with significantly fewer checks. Goods that could cross the border and enter the EU’s single market will travel through the red lane.
The deal also introduces the “Stormont brake”, designed to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to block any EU law changes from coming into force in the region. It gives the Northern Irish politicians the power to reject “significant” new regulations imposed by Brussels if 30 MLA signatures from two parties can secure a successful vote. The UK government would need to back up the veto.
The deal has been met with mixed reactions. While Sunak has called it a “decisive breakthrough”, several lawmakers who opposed the previous agreement said they want some time to digest the new details before passing judgment. He promised food available on supermarket shelves in Great Britain would also be available in Northern Ireland, as well as guaranteeing the future supply of UK-approved medicines to Northern Ireland. No date was provided for when the UK parliament would vote on the proposals, with Sunak stressing that “time and care” would be taken for parties to understand the deal. The European Union must also ratify this.
Rishi Sunak believes that if his “Windsor Framework” for Northern Ireland is successfully put into practice, it could result in the formation of “the world’s most exciting economic zone”, with access to both the European Union and the United Kingdom markets.
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