The relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland (ROI) came into sharp focus recently, as US President Joe Biden visited ROI. Biden’s visit coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement 1998 (GFA) which brought an end to 30 years of Troubles in Northern Ireland (NI). The UK government will have welcomed the fact that President Biden described the Windsor Framework (WF) as one of two pillars (along with the GFA) which are key to future peace and prosperity in NI. The WF is also fundamental to the recent improvement of the tripartite UK-EU-ROI relationship.
The Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) was part of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and sought to square the circle of respecting the GFA, whilst maintaining NI’s place in the UK Single Market. But the Unionist community in NI felt the NIP left NI being treated differently from the rest of the UK – a feeling which led to the 2022 suspension of the Stormont Assembly. The negotiation of the WF demonstrated a new and welcome willingness of the UK and the EU to negotiate mutually acceptable solutions to some of the problems created by Brexit (even if the WF has not (so far) achieved one of its objectives of re‑starting power-sharing at Stormont).
What has Changed under the WF?
The WF addresses a number of the difficulties with the NIP — including arrangements for medicines, cross‑border transport of plants and pets, and the power of the NI Government to raise objections to EU legislation that applies in NI (the “Stormont Brake”). The WF also creates a “Green Lane” (for agri‑foods being traded only into NI) and a “Red Lane” (for agri‑food products ‘at risk’ of leaving the UK’s Single Market and being traded into the EU’s Single Market). Green Lane goods will be required to carry new labelling stating ‘not for sale in the EU’ and, in comparison with the checks on such goods required under the NIP, Green Lane goods will be subject to reduced customs checks and procedures.