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Northern Ireland & The Windsor Framework

Is the Windsor Framework a wonderful win or a house of cards ready to blow over under the wind of scrutiny?  We take a closer look!

After over a week of speculation, and months of topsy-turvy negotiations, on the 27th February, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, stood in front of the cameras in Windsor to share with us the proposed future of GB-NI-EU trade.

The Windsor Framework.

This agreement has been a long time coming and, both sides would agree, negotiations have at times let to strains on the UK-EU relationship.  Even within the Windsor Framework Command Paper, the Northern Ireland Protocol is described as a "source of acute political, economic and societal difficulties".

However, with the Framework "fundamentally amending the text and provisions of the original Protocol" it has been touted by Government as: "a new way forward for prosperous, stable future for Northern Ireland".

But what exactly does it mean for business and the people of the UK?  Well, here we are no longer than 72 hours after the announcement, and after sieving through various information and documents, we're pulled together some of the potentially key changes for you:

Improve the Flow of Trade Between GB and NI


Firstly, and arguably most importantly for a lot of businesses, the Framework removes red tape and checks on internal UK trade.  This is achieved by introducing a new UK Internal Market Scheme (in essence a green lane) that will be launched and be used for UK internal trade.

With the introduction of the "green lane", GB goods to be sold in NI will only have to provide ordinary commercial information rather than complete full customs formalities and obtain any necessary certification requirements.

"The new UK Internal Market Scheme will be based on data-sharing between the UK and the EU which allows trade flows to be monitored purely based on commercial data and technology."

Signing Up to the UK Internal Market Scheme


The Government states that if a business already uses the UK Trade Scheme, it can be automatically enrolled on the new scheme. New traders will need to sign-up once the scheme is in place.

Also, the previous restrictions that outlined which businesses could be classed as internal UK traders, have now been loosened under the Framework. As such, allowing new businesses to register and benefit from the UK Internal Market Scheme. For instance, businesses throughout the UK will now be eligible, rather than those who only have a physical premises in Northern Ireland which was the case under the Protocol.

This new system will be “underpinned by the existing Trader Support Service”. As mentioned before, businesses will have to provide information to TSS which can be found on the sales invoice and transport contracts. Drastically moving away from the provisions under the Protocol which placed a greater onus on customs processes.

"For example, goods moving into Northern Ireland will no longer require a commodity code. Similarly, rules of origin requirements and supplementary declarations will be a thing of the past. In terms of customs checks, these will only take place when there is risk-based and intelligence-led information which points towards potential criminal behaviour."



Government estimates show that around 75% of all food sold in NI supermarkets comes from GB. As such, it was no surprise that the agrifood sector was such an important area for the new Framework to resolve.

Under the full extent of the Protocol (which has to date only been delayed via extended grace periods) potentially a single supermarket lorry travelling from GB-NI would have to obtain 500 certificates (costing up to £150 per certificate) and undertake physical checks. Again without the grace periods, food such as sausages and lamb would have been banned completely.

"However, under the Framework, all traders moving agri-food to final consumers in NI will become a member of the UK Scheme which means that bans on particular products will be permanently scrapped as will the certificates and physical checks."

Under the Framework, such goods can travel under a single document confirming the goods are to stay in NI.


The Framework provides long-term security for business and consumers who handle parcels. For parcels sent to friends and family in NI, there will remain no requirements. For B2C movements in NI, there will be no customs requirements which will leave NI consumers in a unique position of being able to receive parcels from the UK and the EU without customs formalities. For B2B movements, it will be the same process as described above when it comes to the UK Internal Market Scheme. The Windsor Framework Command Paper states that these changes will be introduced from October 2024.

Standards & Regulations

Ensuring Northern Ireland's place within the UK internal market, and providing particular safeguards for NI to manage changes in EU law, was always seen as an important area that any new agreement would need to rectify.

Under the Framework, UK standards and regulations will apply in Northern Ireland for essential retail trade and tax rather then EU.

"As such, 1700 pages of EU law, and the European Court of Justice jurisdiction, will no longer apply in these areas."

Such steps, will allow the same UK food safety laws to apply for retail goods, medicines licensing to be undertaken by the UK regulator for NI patients and, VAT and excise rates to apply UK-wide. This will lead to NI supermarkets selling the same food as their GB counterparts, medicines to be available, labelled and licenced for the whole of the UK and, the zero-rate VAT for installation of energy-saving materials plus the upcoming reforms to alcohol duty, to apply across the UK.

Plants & Seeds


Additionally, plants and seeds under the Framework will be able to travel to NI in the same way as the rest of Great Britain. As such, businesses can pay a £120 yearly fee to be part of the current UK register/scheme rather than potentially £150 for a certificate for each movement to Northern Ireland. 

Veterinary Medicinces

Though there is still no long-term solution, the Framework will put in place a grace period until the end of 2025 to continue to allow veterinary medicines authorised in the UK to be placed on the NI market.

The Stormont Break

One of the most discussed and highlighted elements of the Framework is the new Stormont Break.  Simply put, this mechanism gives the Northern Ireland Assembly the power to decide whether significant new rules on goods should apply in Northern Ireland if they are going to impact on everyday life.

"Once the Stormont Break is triggered, the EU Directive or Regulation in question will be suspended from coming into effect.  The particular piece of EU law can only then be applied to NI if both the UK and EU agree to do so through their Joint Committee."


At this stage, it’s impossible to cover all areas of the new Windsor Framework and the possible repercussions on each sector. However, at the very least, the above has shown just how wide-ranging the new Framework is and the positive ramifications it can have on all traders.

Will it be enough to satisfy the DUP and for them to return to government and restore the Northern Ireland Assembly? Will the Framework receive the necessary support in the House of Commons prior to their vote which the Prime Minister has promised?

At this point, we just don’t know.

A recent BBC article quoted a Conservative MP as saying it currently has a feeling of the “immediate hours and days after a Budget, where the Government is emphasising the good stuff in it but critics have yet to find the bad stuff buried in the documents”.

So, it may be that over the coming weeks various issues are raised and some hurdles still need to be addressed. However, where we are right now (i.e. only 72 hours after the announcement), seems to be a much better place than under the original Protocol. Certainly, the promise from Government to not proceed with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill and, for the EU to not proceed with the seven separate legal actions they’ve launched against the UK, can (surely) only be a good thing of long-term, successful cooperation.

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