What Is In Rishi Sunak's 'Breakthrough' Brexit Deal With The EU?

The prime minister sealed the "Windsor Framework" with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

Rishi Sunak appears to have pulled off the impossible after reaching a “decisive breakthrough” with the EU on the Northern Ireland protocol.

After intensive talks with the EU Commission president Ursual von der Leyen, Sunak unveiled the new deal — dubbed the Windsor framework — at a joint press conference this afternoon.

Sunak said any new arrangements must satisfy three conditions to improve the existing protocol — sovereignty for Northern Ireland, safeguarding its place in the Union and easing disruption for people and businesses.

HuffPost UK takes you through what we know about the deal so far.

Free-flowing movement of goods

One of the main consequences of Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol is the trade barrier it has erected between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.

Goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland currently have to undergo rigorous checks in case they end up in the Republic of Ireland, which is still in the EU and the single market.

However, there has been frustration that goods that are not destined to travel further than Northern Ireland are having to undergo checks that are unnecesary.

Sunak’s deal confirmed reports that there will now be two lanes for goods: a green lane and a red lane.

In the green lane, goods that are destined for Northern Ireland will no longer be subject to time-consuming paperwork, checks and duties.

The government says only “ordinary commercial information” — such as that which is used to move goods from Birmingham to the Isle of Wight — rather than “burdensome” customs bureaucracy or complex certification requirements for agrifood.

The green lane has also been expanded to include supermarkets and hospitality firms, meaning Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) checks and paperwork will be reduced and there is less risk of empty supermarket shelves.

Sausages, which were banned under the old protocol, will now be able to move freely from Britain into Northern Ireland like other retail food products.

Parcels, which were previously subject to customs declarations and extra costs, can also be sent easily from GB to NI.

Goods that are due to end up in the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, will be sent to the red lane where all the EU checks will apply.

The government argues that these changes effectively remove the border that was erected in the Irish Sea — a key demand of unionists in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

What Is The Northern Ireland Protocol?

The protocol is a trading arrangement, negotiated during Brexit talks, that allows goods to be transported across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland without the need for customs checks.

The deal was aimed at protecting the delicate Good Friday Agreement by avoiding putting up a hard border between NI and the Republic.

However, unionist parties argue that the protocol instead places an effective border in the Irish Sea, undermining Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.

Goods moving from GB to NI currently have to undergo rigorous checks because they may end up in the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the EU’s single market.

That has created friction and disruption for businesses which the UK and EU both want to solve.

The protocol is so disliked by the DUP, Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party, that it has refused to take part in the power-sharing government with Sinn Fein at Stormont unless its concerns are resolved.

Medicines, pets and potatoes

Under the new deal, the same medicines with the same packaging will be available across the UK, without the need to scan barcodes.

The UK will license all medicines, including novel medicines like cancer drugs, rather than the European Medicines Agency as was the case under the old protocol.

Pet owners in Northern Ireland will no longer need documentation from a vet to travel to Great Britain. Those with microchipped pets in GB who are not travelling to Ireland or the rest of the EU will be able to sign up for a lifetime travel document that is available online when travelling to Northern Ireland.

English oak trees and seed potatoes, which were banned under the previous protocol, will not need to undergo checks and costly certification.

Crucially, the legal text of the protocol has been amended so that “critical” VAT and excise changes will apply to the whole of the UK, meaning Northern Ireland will not miss out on zero rates of VAT that has been applied to solar panels and alcohol duties.

However, EU VAT rules could still be applied in Northern Ireland.

Stormont brake

Perhaps the biggest win for Sunak is the so-called “Stormont brake”, which aims to address Brexiteer and unionist concerns around the “democratic deficit”, where EU rules apply to Northern Ireland but it doesn’t have a say in how those rules work.

Under the brake, the Northern Ireland Assembly will be able to oppose new EU goods rules that have “significant and lasting effects on everyday lives in Northern Ireland.”

To do this, any objection will need to have the support of 30 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) from at least two parties.

Finally, the government argues that the role of the European Court of Justice — a key sticking point for Brexiteers and Unionists — has been significantly reduced.

It says now that more than 1,700 EU laws have been removed, the ECJ no longer has oversight in areas such as VAT, medicines, and food safety.

The EU rules that do apply will only do so to ensure Northern Ireland business have unrestricted access to the whole of the EU single market and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, the government has said.

What has been the reaction so far?

The key people that Sunak needs to impress are members of the hardline European Research Group of Tory eurosceptics, as well as the DUP, the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland.

While the DUP said it needed to time to pore over and consider the deal, the noises coming from its quarters have sounded resonably positive.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said “in broad terms it is clear that significant progress has been secured across a number of areas whilst also recognising there remain key issues of concern”.

“There can be no disguising the fact that in some sectors of our economy EU law remains applicable in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The DUP will want to study the detail of what has been published today as well as examining the detail of any and all underpinning legal texts. Where necessary we stand ready to engage with the government in order to seek further clarification, re-working or change as required.”

Northern Ireland Office minister Steve Baker, who was previously on resignation watch following reports he had been “frozen out” of negotiations, said he “wholeheartedly” backed the new UK-EU deal because of the Stormont brake.

He told the BBC that the amount of EU law that will apply in Northern Ireland “is now down to the absolute minimum necessary to keep that north-south border free of infrastructure”.

“The bottom line is, provided it’s a material impediment to trade in Northern Ireland, the Assembly will be able to say no…

“If the Assembly says no, then we will be able to veto the application of that new rule in Northern Ireland. So if sovereignty is the power to say no, which I think it often is, this is a terrific achievement.”

Baker said the deal should be enough to satisfy “reasonable unionists”, but he added: “There are unionists who would dig a moat between the North and the South, those unionists will never be happy.

“But I think for reasonable unionists – and the DUP are determined but reasonable unionists – I think this deal will be good enough. And if it’s not, I’m really not sure what we’re going to do for them.”


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