The Windsor Framework: A new way forward for the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

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Series Details PE 747.095
Publication Date April 2023
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The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland forms an integral part of the 2020 EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement. It was designed to avoid the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland, and safeguard the all-island economy and the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. Furthermore, the Protocol sets out to protect the integrity of the EU single market. Since the very beginning, implementation of the Protocol has been marred by rising tensions and political challenges, straining wider EU-UK relations. While the UK tabled various domestic legislative proposals seeking to over-ride parts of the Protocol, the EU responded with series of infringement procedures. The impasse appears to have been broken since Rishi Sunak became UK Prime Minister. The two parties entered into a fresh negotiation process, seeking to address the main problems.

The new agreement, called the Windsor Framework, was announced in February 2023. It is designed to improve the trading rules for Northern Ireland, bring stability and clarity for businesses and people in the region, and open a new chapter in EU-UK relations. The framework is based on new data sharing agreements, novel arrangements for customs, agri-food, medicines, VAT and excise, and State aid, and new ways to engage the stakeholders and communities of Northern Ireland on the issues particularly important to them. The agreement was endorsed by the UK House of Commons and then by the EU-UK Joint Committee in March 2023. Despite the disapproval of some groups, the framework has been met with almost universal acclaim and appreciation. EU-UK relations could still deteriorate and new trade barriers emerge, however, if the latter deviates significantly from its current legislative model. While the framework constitutes an improvement in joint solution-finding and enhances mutual trust, it remains to be seen whether it really heralds the opening of a meaningful new chapter of closer relations with the UK.

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