Grayling Analysis: The Windsor Framework
2,440 days since the UK voted to leave the European Union, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the much anticipated “Windsor Framework” – an agreement which looks to reset the UK/EU trading relationship, underpin the integrity of the European Single Market and crucially, answer the concerns of unionists around a border in the Irish Sea which held back the resumption of power-sharing at Stormont.
Today’s announcement will be hailed in the UK as a political victory for a Prime Minister under pressure. Rishi Sunak has accomplished something which eluded his immediate predecessors – reaching a new agreement without the need to unilaterally break international law, whilst resetting UK/EU relations in the process.
The framework has already received praise from various quarters, with Irish Tánaiste and Foreign Minister Micheál Martin TD calling it “very welcome”, while Northern Ireland Minister and staunch Brexiteer Steve Baker MP said the agreement is “great news.” Downing Street will be hoping that détente with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol will unlock progress in other areas, including scientific research funding, co-operation with France on cross-Channel migration and further action to support Ukraine.
The prospect of agreement is also likely to significantly improve the UK’s relationship with the United States at a critical time for trade negotiations, with President Joe Biden having repeatedly stressed that any efforts from the UK Government to unilaterally amend the Northern Ireland Protocol would not create a conducive environment for a trade deal. The long-rumored state visit of the President to the UK and Ireland in early April, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement, is now more possible.
While a political victory is in sight for the Prime Minister, the deal must pass through both the UK and European Parliaments. All eyes now are focused on the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) assessment of the deal, and whether the new framework does enough to assuage its concerns around Northern Ireland’s place within the UK. The DUP has publicly set out seven tests against which it will measure any deal, and its decision making may be affected by issues closer to home, including the potential of it being outflanked to the right by smaller unionist parties in upcoming council elections and the prospect of a DUP Deputy First Minister serving with a Sinn Féin First Minister in Stormont for the first time if power-sharing is restored.
Ultimately, a new framework which unites Brussels, London and Dublin is central to the Prime Minister’s attempt to be seen as the details-driven leader his predecessors failed to be. And with business leaders uniting in praise over his efforts to usher in a new era of stability and certainty, Rishi Sunak may look back on the Windsor Framework as the moment which cemented his place as the leader who finally put to bed the recurring nightmare which haunted Cameron, May, Johnson and Truss – by getting Brexit done.
Executive Summary of Key Announcements
Red Lanes & Green Lanes
Goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, that are destined to stay within Northern Ireland, can use a “Green Lane” that requires minimal customs checks. Goods moving through Northern Ireland to enter the EU Single Market will still be required to use a “Red Lane” involving significant checks.
Governance & The ECG
Large amounts of EU law have been removed from applying in Northern Ireland, reducing the role of the European Courts of Justice (ECJ). Rules in significant areas will therefore be interpreted primarily by Northern Irish and British courts.
VAT, State Aid & Excise
These taxation and spending powers were limited in the original Protocol, but the new Agreement gives the UK full authority to use them in Northern Ireland without being limited by EU law.
The Stormont Brake
The Agreement described a new mechanism for the Northern Ireland Assembly to prevent EU laws from being applied in Northern Ireland – this “Stormont Brake” will allow MLAs to suspend a piece of legislation if 30 MLAs from two or more parties agree to do so, with EU-UK agreement required to enforce it once the brake has been applied.
New EU-UK Institutions & Structures
The EU and UK have committed to further consultations on areas of law before they are applied to Northern Ireland, with the UK Government committing to consult further with Northern Irish political parties on amendments to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 in order to achieve this.
Northern Ireland has been exempted from EU requirements for new medicines to be approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), ensuring an uninterrupted flow of medicines between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Veterinary medicines have also been safeguarded until the end of 2025.
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