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#TradeTuesday: The Windsor Framework – an explainer

By Tom Haynes
28 February 2023
Public Affairs

By Tom Haynes

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on Monday night a new agreement in principle to address challenges with the Northern Ireland Protocol. Read more about the political chances of this being a success in the piece by our colleagues. Meanwhile our Trade Team is bringing you a quick explainer below of the deal and its impact for different sectors.

The Problem

Ever since the UK left the European in 2020, the Northern Ireland protocol has been in place to prevent a hard boarder between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The result has been a de facto boarder in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and mainland GB, with checks applying at all of Northern Ireland’s ports. This has made the passage of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK at best difficult and in some cases impossible.

The Solution 

The main takeaway from the new Windsor Framework is the introduction of a two tiered system with a ‘Green Lane’ for goods intended for Northern Ireland and a ‘Red Lane’ for goods destined for onwards travel in to the EU. 

Sector: Agri-Food

Agri -food imports carry some of the tightest EU controls and the new process will restore much of the previous agri-food trade that took place between NI and GB. This announcement will allow fresh meat such as sausages and lamb to enter Northern Ireland, so long as they carry “Not for EU” labels. For retailers this will see a reduction from up to 100% of goods being inspected down to just 5%. The deal will also restore the valuable trade of seed potatoes, which are produced in Scotland and then grown in NI. This was entirely banned under the previous arrangement. 

Sector: Pharmaceuticals

Under the protocol all medicines in NI required approval from the EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and not the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA). There had been some temporary fixes made to this process last year but the government described these as a “temporary sticking plaster”. This may sound like a small issue but the reality was that NI risked not having access to certain medicines, because it was not sustainable to market products specifically for Norther Ireland. Under the new framework businesses will only require one licence to supply the whole of the UK and patients receive the same medicines in the same packs, with the same labels, as the rest of the UK. The UK government believe this will “permanently protect the supply of UK medicines for Northern Ireland”. 

Sector: Online Shopping and Parcels

Many retailers had stopped supplying to Northern Ireland owing to an upcoming requirement to do a full customs declaration on every parcel travelling from GB to NI. This extended to personal packages as well as commercial orders. Not only did this have a very real business impact on NI, with many products no longer available to NI customers but it also had a personal impact with something as straightforward as sending a birthday present requiring a full customs declaration, with possible added costs. Under this framework these additional customs burdens have been scrapped and all parcels to Northern Ireland will be treated the same as any other part of the UK.