Everything you need to know about the Windsor Agreement

Rishi Sunak discusses NI agreement in Parliament

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Rishi Sunak hailed the start of a new dawn in relations with Brussels after securing major concessions that will end Brexit border tensions. The Prime Minister declared the deal he struck with the EU “puts beyond all doubt that we have now taken back control”. Leading Brexiteers have praised the “spectacular” and “brilliant” outcome of the negotiations. Here’s everything you need to know.c

The key points

Green lane/red lane

Goods from Britain destined for Northern Ireland will travel through a new “green lane”, with a separate “red lane” for goods at risk of moving onto the EU.

Products coming into Northern Ireland through the green lane would see checks and paperwork scrapped.

Red lane goods destined for the EU still be subject to normal checks.

Mr Sunak said this would mean food available on supermarket shelves in Great Britain will be available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland.

New data-sharing arrangements would be used to oversee the new system.

Where smuggling is suspected, some custom checks may still be carried out on green-lane goods.

Businesses moving goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain would not be required to complete export declarations.

Bans on certain products – like chilled sausages – entering Northern Ireland from Britain would be scrapped.

Pets, parcels and medicines

“Onerous requirements” on moving pets will be removed.

Medicines approved for use by the UK regulator available in Northern Ireland pharmacies and hospitals.

Mr Sunak said that people sending parcels to friends or family or doing online shopping in Northern Ireland will not have to complete customs paperwork.

VAT and alcohol duty

Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, EU VAT rules could be applied in Northern Ireland.

Under the new deal, Mr Sunak says the UK can make “critical VAT” changes which include Northern Ireland.

For example, if the government raises or cuts alcohol duty this will apply to pubs in Northern Ireland as well as the rest of the UK, he said.

Stormont brake

Under the protocol, some EU law applies in Northern Ireland, but politicians had no formal way to influence the rules.

A new agreement introduces a “Stormont brake” which allows the Northern Ireland Assembly to raise an objection to a new rule.

The process would be triggered if 30 MLAs (representatives in the Stormont Assembly) from two or more parties sign a petition.

14-day consultation period would follow, after which, if 30 MLAs still support it, there would be a vote in the assembly.

To pass, it would need support from both unionists and nationalist representatives.

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.

What is in the new deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol?

It is a key part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, signed by the then-prime minister in 2020, and was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

To keep the border free-flowing, London and Brussels essentially moved new regulatory and customs checks required by Brexit to the Irish Sea.

The move introduced red tape on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, creating a headache for many businesses and enraging loyalists and unionists who claim the region’s place within the UK has been undermined.

The row has also left Northern Ireland without a functioning devolved government, after the Democratic Unionist Party used its veto to bring down devolution in protest at the protocol.

Its boycott means a ministerial executive cannot function and the legislative assembly cannot conduct any business.

What is in the new deal on trade?

The new Windsor Framework was announced by Mr Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, with the Prime Minister claiming that the agreement “removes any sense of a border in the Irish Sea”.

The Prime Minister set out a wider array of planned changes and reforms, covering trade, VAT regulation and the role of Stormont in EU laws that apply to Northern Ireland.

At the core of the deal is the creation of a new system for the flow of goods.

Anything destined for Northern Ireland will travel there as part of a “green lane”, with significantly fewer checks. Anything that could cross the border and enter the EU’s single market will travel through a separate red lane.

Mr Sunak said that the changes to the protocol will scale back the number of certificates required for traders moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, with customs paperwork removed too for people sending parcels or buying goods online.

He indicated changes to the movement of food too, claiming that anything made to UK rules will now be clear to be “sent to and sold” in NI.

That will include sausages, one of the foodstuffs hit by protocol changes and which grabbed the attention of politicians in Belfast and Westminster alike.

“If food is available on supermarket shelves in Great Britain, then it will be available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland,” Mr Sunak said.

As part of the deal, the legal text of the protocol has also been amended on VAT. Under current arrangements, EU VAT and excise rules for goods generally apply in Northern Ireland.

Mr Sunak said that would now change, with the legal text of the protocol amended to allow the UK Government to “make critical VAT and excise changes for the whole of the UK”.

Alcohol duty, for instance, was mentioned – with Mr Sunak suggesting that the cost of a pint in the pub could be cut for Northern Irish drinkers.

What is the role of the European Court of Justice under the agreement?

It had been expected that both the UK and the EU would try to find a way around the difficult role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Concerns about the oversight role of the court have been raised by the DUP and some Tory backbenchers, with the issue less about trade and more about sovereignty.

The ECJ had been the final arbitrator of EU law issues in the region, given the fact that Northern Ireland essentially remains within the single market for goods.

Details are not yet fully clear, but Mr Sunak said that a “Stormont brake” would be introduced to allow the Northern Ireland assembly to flag concerns about changes to EU rules that would have a “significant and lasting” effect.

He said that if pulled, the UK Government will have a “veto”.

But speaking to reporters, Ms von der Leyen said the ECJ is the “sole and ultimate arbiter of EU law” and will have the “final say” on single market decisions.

She described the Stormont brake as something that would be an emergency mechanism that would hopefully not be needed.

What does the EU think of the new deal?

Ms von der Leyen spoke highly of the efforts to reach a deal, calling it “historic” and one that opened a “new chapter” in UK-EU relations.

When do the changes take effect?

The Prime Minister said that the new agreement would make a difference “almost immediately”, but beyond that we do not know the exact timeframe of the changes or whether we will see some form of transition to the new arrangements.

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