On February 27, United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen in Windsor. The long-awaited discussions over Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol began a “new chapter” in UK-EU relationships according to Prime Minister Sunak.
Historical context and Brexit
After the announcement that the UK would leave the EU, the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol came into force on January 1, 2021. While Ireland remained an EU member state, Northern Ireland would stay subject to the rules of the EU single market and customs union even though the UK would no longer be a member state. As such, Northern Ireland still had to comply with the necessary requirements and regulations that countries enjoying the EU free movement of goods and services are subject to.
Apart from maintaining lower trade costs for Northern Ireland, the flow of free trade flowing also prevented a harder border from emerging between Northern Ireland and the bordering Republic of Ireland. Given the historical tensions of the late 20th century, it was vital to ensure stability and to uphold the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, which ended the Troubles, the conflict in Northern Ireland, in 1998.
However, the decision to give Northern Ireland special status means that goods arriving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are subject to extra costs and checks in order to ensure compliance with EU standards.
The Windsor Framework
For two years, the UK and EU have held discussions to alleviate these issues. The outcome: the Windsor Framework, which are amendments to the relationship between the EU and UK. A green and red lane system has now been created for the movement of goods between Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the EU. Instead of all goods having to be checked in Northern Ireland, goods destined solely for Northern Ireland (Green Lane) will not be subject to checks and extensive paperwork, minimizing the costs of import. Those goods, however, that are intended for travel to Ireland and hence the EU (Red Lane) will be subject to checks and extra costs.
The Windsor Framework allowed further changes to UK VAT rates to apply to Northern Ireland; before the new agreement, EU VAT rates were applicable, whereas before, those regulated by the EU were implemented. Moreover, the agreement reduced the proportion of EU laws applied to Northern Ireland to less than 3%, appeasing those in the UK who wished for a hard Brexit and independence from the imposition of the EU legal framework.
Micheál Martin, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defense Ireland stated, the Windsor Protocol opened a “new chapter” for the EU and UK, two important partners to each other and to Ireland. “It is in Ireland’s interests that the EU and the UK have a positive forward-looking relationship,” he stated. The Windsor Framework is seemingly a first step in healing years of dispute.
Cover image by: Dan Kitwood, retrieved from the New York Times