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Northern Ireland Protocol revised: UK and EU reach deal to reduce customs checks on goods

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen have reached a new agreement, aimed at resolving post-Brexit issues in Northern Ireland. The deal, named the Windsor Framework, was announced after months of negotiations, and addresses several concerns that have arisen since the UK left the European Union in January 2020.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was established to ensure that goods continued to comply with EU rules despite the UK's exit from the bloc. However, this led to the creation of a regulatory border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, meaning inspections on certain goods had to be conducted at Northern Irish ports. This complicated trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, with critics arguing that it weakened Northern Ireland's position within the UK.

The Windsor Framework, the new agreement between the UK and the EU, is aimed at addressing post-Brexit issues in Northern Ireland. One of the main provisions of the deal is that most goods traveling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will no longer need customs and regulatory checks if they are certified as not intended for the EU market. However, certain food products will need to carry a label saying, "not for EU".

To ensure a smooth flow of goods, the new deal introduces a "green lane" for goods from Britain destined for Northern Ireland, and a separate "red lane" for goods at risk of moving onto the EU. This will significantly reduce the checks and paperwork required for products coming into Northern Ireland through the green lane, while the red lane goods destined for the EU will still be subject to normal checks. This new process will mean that food available on the supermarket shelves in Great Britain will also be available in Northern Ireland.

Moreover, Mr. Sunak has promised that all items available in British supermarkets will also be sold in Northern Ireland, and medicines approved by the UK's regulator will no longer be held back from the Northern Irish market. This will provide greater clarity and certainty for businesses and individuals in Northern Ireland, while ensuring that the UK's internal market remains intact.

Belfast port terminal may introduce Green/Red light system.

The Windsor Framework also addresses the issue of parcels being subject to full custom declarations. Parcels will not be subject to full custom declarations, and from 2024, parcel operators will be required to share data with the EU to manage smuggling risks. The deal also provides clarity on the role of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in Northern Ireland. Medicines for use in Northern Ireland will be approved by the UK regulator rather than the EMA. This means that the UK will be responsible for approving medicines for use in Northern Ireland, which will streamline the process and ensure that patients have access to the medicines they need.

Another significant aspect of the Windsor Framework is the Stormont Brake. Under the protocol, some EU laws applied in Northern Ireland, but politicians had no formal way to influence the rules. The new agreement reduces the proportion of EU rules applied in Northern Ireland to less than 3%. The European Court of Justice continues to be the final arbiter in disputes over these remaining rules. However, the deal introduces a "Stormont brake," which allows the Northern Ireland Assembly to raise an objection to a new goods rule. The process would be triggered if 30 MLAs (representatives in the Stormont) from two or more parties sign a petition. The brake cannot be used for "trivial reasons" but reserved for "significantly different" rules. Once the UK tells the EU the brake has been triggered, the rule cannot be implemented. It can only be applied if the UK and EU agree. This new process is not subject to oversight by the European Court of Justice. Disputes would be resolved through independent arbitration.

The EU also has its own safeguard. If Northern Ireland starts to diverge significantly from the bloc's rules, the EU has the power to take "appropriate remedial measures". This provision ensures that the EU's interests are protected while providing Northern Ireland with the flexibility it needs to thrive in a post-Brexit world.

Additionally, the UK government has confirmed that it is scrapping the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. The controversial legislation, introduced under ex-PM Boris Johnson, would have given the UK the power to scrap the old protocol deal. However, legal opinion published by the government says there is now "no legal justification" for going ahead with it. This decision marks the end of a long and contentious chapter in the history of the Brexit negotiations.

Overall, the Windsor Framework represents a significant breakthrough in the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and the EU. The agreement addresses many of the issues that have arisen since the UK left the EU, particularly those related to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The new deal provides greater clarity and certainty for businesses and individuals in Northern Ireland, while ensuring that the UK's internal market remains intact. The Stormont Brake also provides Northern Ireland with greater flexibility while ensuring that the EU's interests are protected. While there are still some outstanding issues that need to be resolved, the Windsor Framework represents a major step forward in the UK's post-Brexit journey.

The new deal has been welcomed by both sides. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would "protect the Belfast Agreement and ensure Northern Ireland's place in the UK's customs territory while preserving access to the EU's single market for Northern Ireland's businesses." Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said the agreement was a "positive development" that would "help to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process on the island of Ireland."

There has also been support from Northern Ireland's political leaders. First Minister Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said the agreement was a "significant improvement" that would "help to address many of the problems caused by the Protocol." Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, leader of Sinn Fein, said the deal was a "welcome step forward" that would "bring much-needed stability to businesses and citizens alike."

However, there are some concerns that the new deal may not be enough to address all the challenges posed by the Northern Ireland Protocol. Some businesses have already faced difficulties in importing goods from Great Britain, and it remains to be seen whether the new green lane/red lane system will be sufficient to prevent further disruptions. Additionally, the Stormont Brake may be seen as a potential source of conflict, as it gives the Northern Ireland Assembly a significant degree of influence over the implementation of new EU rules in the region.

Despite these concerns, the Windsor Framework represents a significant achievement in the ongoing negotiations between the UK and the EU. It provides a clear path forward for trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, while also ensuring that the EU's interests are protected. The new deal will undoubtedly face some challenges in the months and years ahead, but it is a positive step towards a more stable and prosperous future for Northern Ireland and the wider UK.

If you need assistance with customs clearance or have any questions regarding the new Windsor Framework agreement, our team at C&L Declarations is here to help. Contact us today to learn how we can help your business navigate the changing regulations and ensure a smooth import/export process.


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