The Windsor Framework guarantees no hard border for the island of Ireland, a key ingredient for success of the food and beverage sector North and South, writes Lucy Ryan, head of Food & Drink Sector at Bank of Ireland.
Brexit brought many complexities to Britain-EU trade, particularly for Northern Ireland. When the UK left the EU, the Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement, to protect the Good Friday agreement and the EU Single market and prevent land checks on the island of Ireland.
Since 1 January 2021, a business that brings goods into Northern Ireland from Great Britain, needs to submit correct declarations to Customs for goods.
“The focus can shift to strengthening trade relations”
Paperwork can be complex and some products are banned from importation. Politically, it has been very challenging for Northern Ireland and has caused tensions between the EU and the UK.
The Windsor Framework
After protracted negotiations, the EU and UK jointly announced the Windsor Framework on 27 February. It is a proposed agreement to change trade rules for Northern Ireland in a bid to resolve the post-Brexit disputes and end the political stalemate there.
Once implemented and passed into law, it will amend the Northern Ireland Protocol and significantly, it will mean no hard border on the island of Ireland.
Main changes due to the Framework include:
- The introduction of a “Green lane” system for goods destined for Northern Ireland with fewer checks and controls for ‘trusted and authorised carriers’
- There will be simplified paperwork for pre-packaged agri-foods, such as meat and dairy, intended for consumption in Northern Ireland. No physical checks and controls and minimal visual inspections will apply
- “Red lane” goods intended for the EU will have full checks and controls
- Removal of the ban on certain goods such as chilled processed meats and seed potatoes entering Northern Ireland from Britain
- New data-sharing and labelling arrangements will be used; there will be a dual regulatory system for medicines; VAT and excise duties will become homogenous in
- Britain and Northern Ireland; no customs’ paperwork will be required for parcels going to Northern Ireland from Britain
How will the Windsor Framework be implemented?
The EU-UK Joint Committee will play a key part in the implementation. The EU and UK have committed to resolving future potential disputes relating to the Protocol’s operation within the current framework.
There will be an emergency mechanism called the “Stormont Brake”, if proposed EU rules on goods are “significantly different” from existing rules. To trigger this, a minimum of 30 (Total 108) Members of at least two political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly would be required to raise an objection to a new EU law from applying there.
On 24th March, the Framework was adopted into law by both the UK and the EU. Certain parts of the Framework will become applicable in a gradual way. For example, the new, and expanded trusted trader scheme for freight will apply from 30th September 2023, provided that the relevant safeguards are in place.
Over the coming months, the EU and the UK will work closely together, in good faith, to ensure the full implementation of the Windsor Framework, including the full implementation of safeguards and facilitations.
The Windsor Framework offers a solution to much-needed certainty for Northern Ireland.
Whilst there may be practical challenges in administering the new system, the Framework is welcomed by businesses importing goods from Britain destined for Northern Ireland. Simultaneously Northern Ireland will continue to benefit from its unique access to the EU Single market for goods.
It is expected that the changes will start to take effect from 30th September 2023.
Clarity for food and beverage sector
The reception to the Framework within the sector has been largely positive as it will bring clarity for businesses in Ireland, the EU and the UK. Focus can shift to strengthening trade relations.
Once in operation, the Framework should help improve relations in Northern Ireland and allow the Assembly to govern again.
However, there is no certainty that this change will happen quickly or easily and it could be a long wait before its completion.
Already, certain elements of the Framework are not being supported by the DUP in NI, and whilst this has not affected legislation being passed, the future success of the Framework has yet to be fully determined.