UK and European Union reach agreement

By Justin Malone, Staff Writer

On Feb. 27, the UK and European Union (EU) reached a political agreement that aims to resolve disputes over post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland.

The deal, known as the Windsor Framework, came after weeks of negotiations and covers joint solutions addressing trade, Value-Added Tax (VAT) regulations, product safeguards and the role of Stormont in influencing EU laws that apply to Northern Ireland. It was formally announced by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

The new framework aims to recast arrangements in “restoring the smooth flow of trade within the UK internal market, safeguarding Northern Ireland’s place in the Union and addressing the democratic deficit,” according to UK Parliament. 

The need for the agreement stemmed from problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol, which introduced inspection and document checks on goods traveling from Great Britain and EU countries to Northern Ireland’s ports, while allowing Northern Ireland to remain a part of the EU single market.

The move presented significant paperwork and cumbersome trade processes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This created extra costs and delays for businesses and enraged Loyalist and Unionist parties. These parties support Northern Ireland’s place in the UK and claim that the checks generate an effective border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The Windsor Framework aims to reduce the number of checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland while ensuring that strict EU laws regarding certain food and health products are upheld.

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Under the terms of the new deal, goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will travel in a “green” lane that contains minimal paperwork and power checks, while those going from Great Britain to EU member countries would travel in a “red” lane that is subjected to normal customs checks.

In this system, businesses transporting goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will not have to complete export declarations. New data-sharing and labeling arrangements will be created to manage the lanes, and some customs checks will be carried out on “green” lane goods when smuggling is suspected.

The new agreement outlines future that parcels sent between individuals in Great Britain and Northern Ireland will not be subject to additional customs declarations. Pet owners can also travel throughout the UK without extra health treatments. Finally, UK VAT and excise rules will be applied in Northern Ireland for consumable alcoholic drinks and immovable goods.

Critics worry that a new policy element of the Windsor Framework, dubbed the “Stormont Brake,” will diminish the power of the European Court of Justice. Currently, the court rules over whether certain trade rules will be implemented. If the framework passes, the Northern Ireland Assembly will gain limited power to object to the court’s trade rulings. 

The deal is expected to pass through the UK Parliament as opposition parties like the Labours have indicated their support. However, the bill has received some criticism from members of Parliament.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party — Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party — expressed cautious optimism about the framework.

He stated that “significant progress has been secured across a number of areas,” but “key issues of concern” remained in the agreement.

“It is important to remember the majority of people in Northern Ireland opposed Brexit and want to see benefits of dual access to (the EU’s single market) properly utilized,” Social Democratic and Labour Party leader Colum Eastwood said.

The framework, as a diplomatic achievement, could significantly benefit the area and beyond, according to Sunak. 

“The Windsor Framework respects and protects our respective markets and legitimate interests. Most importantly, it protects the very hard-earned gains of the Good Friday Agreement for the people of Northern Ireland,” von der Leyen said.