Windsor Framework an improvement on the Protocol, but problems remain, says Lords Committee
25 July 2023
Today the Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland publishes a major report on the Windsor Framework, examining the economic, political, legal and constitutional implications of the Windsor Framework on Northern Ireland. Based on the large volume of evidence it received during its inquiry, the Sub-Committee concludes that the Windsor Framework is an improvement on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland as originally negotiated, but it is evident that the Windsor Framework does not resolve all the problems with the Protocol.
- Report: The Windsor Framework (HTML)
- Report: The Windsor Framework(PDF)
- Inquiry: The Windsor Framework
- Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland
The Windsor Framework is an agreement reached between the United Kingdom and the European Union on 27 February 2023. It revises the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, which was put in place in an attempt to address the implications of Brexit on Northern Ireland. The new agreement contains arrangements for a range of areas, from the movement of goods to human and veterinary medicines, VAT and excise and state aid. It also introduces enhanced structures for stakeholder engagement, as well as a new mechanism – the ‘Stormont Brake’ – enabling Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in Northern Ireland to object to the application in Northern Ireland of new or revised EU laws in a number of areas.
The House of Lords Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland began its inquiry into the Windsor Framework on 17 March 2023 with the publication of a call for evidence. The Committee’s findings are informed by the substantial volume of oral and written evidence received from the UK Government, business representatives, trade bodies, academic, legal and trade experts as well as community organisation representatives.
The report: key findings and recommendations
- Business representatives and other stakeholders welcomed the agreement by the UK and EU of a mutually agreed solution, and the potential this provides for problems that arise in the future to be resolved in a collaborative manner.
- Benefits of the provisions of the Windsor Framework include the movement from Great Britain to Northern Ireland via the green lane of retail goods, agri-food produce including chilled meats, parcels, pets and human medicines. For some businesses, however, the processes under the Windsor Framework will be more burdensome than under the Protocol as it has operated with grace periods and easements.
- While the green lane will benefit large retailers in particular, some retailers, and some other sectors, may have to use the red lane.
Green and red lanes, and movement of agri-food products
- Business representatives and other stakeholders stressed that the Windsor Framework's provisions on the movement of goods are an improvement on the Protocol as originally designed. In particular, the green lane will benefit a range of retail businesses, including larger retailers and some SMEs.
- The new regime for agri-food retail trade that will support supermarket supply chains, including for chilled meats, has also been welcomed.
- Those retailers not able to meet the green lane's requirements are likely to use the red lane, as will be the case for some agri-food products, goods for manufacturing, and goods where there is any uncertainty over the end destination.
- The Committee calls on the Government to answer outstanding concerns highlighted by business and retailers. These include the movement of livestock from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and back, and concerns that Northern Ireland businesses may be placed at a competitive disadvantage with Great Britain-based retailers in their own market.
- Noting the tight deadlines involved, the Committee also invited the Government urgently to provide further clarity on the labelling requirements on businesses and to set out how it will support businesses in adapting to these changes.
- While welcoming the extension of the grace periods for veterinary medicines until the end of 2025, the Committee heard warnings from industry representatives that without a permanent solution, the supply of over 50 per cent of veterinary medicines to Northern Ireland may be discontinued, posing a risk both to animal and human health, and to agri-food supply chains.
Technical and legal complexity of the Windsor Framework
- There is significant concern over the lack of clarity about the Windsor Framework’s operation, against the backdrop of tight deadlines for implementation. Concerns included the technical and legal complexity of the Windsor Framework, and the multiple documents and legal texts that form part of it, and confusion arising from the difference in emphasis between the UK and EU in their descriptions of some of the Windsor Framework's provisions.
- The Committee calls on the Government and the EU to explain clearly to stakeholders what the provisions of the Windsor Framework mean in practice and to publish a comprehensive summary, including the consolidated text of the original Protocol as amended by the Windsor Framework.
- Business representatives stressed that regulatory divergence, whether between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or between Northern Ireland and Ireland (and the EU as a whole), remains their number one concern.
- There is an underlying fear that Northern Ireland will find itself in a “no-man’s land” between Great Britain and the EU (including Ireland), placing the competitiveness of Northern Ireland firms and their complex supply chains in jeopardy.
- The Committee renews its call for the Government to create and maintain an up-to date record of regulatory divergence and its impact on Northern Ireland.
- The pharmaceutical industry has strongly welcomed the Windsor Framework's provisions on human medicines, arguing that they provide sustainable solutions to the problems with medicine supply to Northern Ireland.
- The Committee invites the Government to respond to the calls from industry representatives for clarity over labelling requirements, safety features, the supply of medical devices and concerns that Northern Ireland may get slower access to cutting-edge products than Ireland.
The Chair of the Sub-Committee Lord Jay of Ewelme said:
“The Windsor Framework is a distinct improvement on the original protocol. But it does not solve all the problems which the Protocol raises.
The benefits to business include easier movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland through the green lane. For some businesses, however, processes will be more burdensome under the Windsor Framework than under the Protocol as it operates now. And where there is uncertainty, the red lane, with its more complex procedures, may have to be used.
Though the Windsor Framework is a clear improvement over the original Protocol, it is highly complex. Businesses need clarity. The Government and the European Union both need urgently to explain what the Windsor Framework means in practice for businesses.
The Government and the European Union need to remain closely in touch with each other. But they must also ensure that Northern Ireland stakeholders are closely engaged throughout.”