Business leaders give cautious but positive reaction to Windsor Framework announcement

Tue 28 Feb 2023
Posted by: Richard Cree
Trade News

Business Meeting

If the political reaction to yesterday’s announcement of a new Windsor Framework to update to the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) was largely “looks good at first glance, but let’s look at the detail”, the business community has adopted a similar cautiously optimistic tone.

For his part, prime minister Rishi Sunak hailed the agreement as one that “delivers smooth-flowing trade within the whole UK, protects Northern Ireland’s place in our Union and safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Commenting on the announcement of the Windsor Framework, Marco Forgione, director general of the Institute of Export & International Trade, hailed the agreement as “positive progress on post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland”.

‘Real test’ upcoming

He added that IOE&IT had listened to feedback from our members and knows just how essential it is for trade processes to be made as smooth as possible.

“The real-time exchange of customs information between the UK and the EU should help with this. The digitalisation of trade has a huge part to play, not only in this deal, but for the future of global trade. But the real test of the new 'Windsor Framework' will be when the full legal text is made available and it is scrutinised by policymakers.

“We will also be closely examining the details of the Framework and will update members and the wider trading community on its implications.”

Other leaders

The Guardian sought the opinions of various business leaders in Northern Ireland, including Andrew Lynas, managing director of Lynas Foodservice. Lynas was particularly welcoming of the “stability and certainty” the new deal offers.

“At least if our suppliers – whether they’re in Birmingham or France – know what the reality of dealing with us is about, then we can move forward,” he said.

The Belfast Telegraph also reports that business groups in Northern Ireland have also responded positively to the announcement.

It reports a statement from the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group as saying:

“As a collaboration of 14 industry bodies, we commend the considerable efforts made by the EU and the UK Government to find joint solutions on the NIP. From the outset our priority has been to secure an agreed, durable outcome that protects our consumers and enables our businesses to thrive.

“Reaching an agreement is an important step in securing the stability and certainty businesses have been seeking. While we do not doubt that many issues will have been resolved, others may remain and/or arise in future, so we would encourage the UK and EU to continue with a constructive, solutions-focussed approach as businesses adjust to the new arrangements.”

Stability welcomed

Nichola Mallon, Logistics UK’s head of trade and devolved policy, said:

“During these discussions, we have consistently reinforced the importance of an agreed, durable outcome between the UK and EU on the NIP, in relation to securing the stability and predictability businesses need. Today’s announcement is therefore positive news for industry, and Logistics UK will now take time to work through the technical details with members.”

Speaking for manufacturers, Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK, welcomed more positive relations between the UK and EU, and called on both sides to work to strengthen and deepen that relationship further:

“Manufacturers across the UK will welcome the announcement that the UK government and EU have worked together to remove what have become significant barriers to trade. Today’s deal will remove customs checks and deliver free flow of goods from the rest of the UK into Northern Ireland, while at the same time protecting the EU’s Single Market, with scrutiny on goods destined for the Republic of Ireland.

“This signifies a welcome new sense of the UK government working collaboratively and pragmatically with the EU. In the coming weeks and months, Make UK calls on the EU and UK to work with business and focus on continuing to deepen cooperation with the EU through improving the TCA and find mechanisms to solve current disruptions in UK EU trade as well as tacking other large issue such as UK participation in Horizon.”

Food and drink

One sector that has been particularly badly affected by the existing protocol arrangements was food and drink.

The Irish News reports the reactions of many of Northern Ireland’s business leaders, including the executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, Michael Bell.

He recognised the positives in the new arrangements but said a full analysis of the document will take time.

“On first reading the Windsor Framework looks substantial and balanced, and represents the kind of pragmatic, practical solutions that we have been urging.”

Alan Lowry, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, pointed out that business leaders have been at the forefront of pointing out the weaknesses in the existing arrangements.

“Business has been to the fore in understanding the operation of the protocol and highlighted many of the problems its implementation has been causing. We commend the great efforts made by the EU and the UK Government to find joint solutions to these challenges.

“The issues have been thoroughly highlighted in advance of these negotiations, so we are looking forward to seeing the text of the final agreement and exploring with our members how well it addresses the issues they have raised since the protocol was first introduced.

Neil Johnston, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium concurred that a detailed assessment of the new Framework will take time. “It is positive to see both sides have agreed a permanent deal that addresses key issues such as controls on movement of goods, but it is difficult to be more definitive at this stage as the detail is key.

Outline ‘welcome’

The director general of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, John McGrane, also welcomed the deal.

“We welcome the outline of a framework, which indicates what we hope will be the settled solution to the long-running impasse over the NIP. We hope today marks the start of a return of certain, deliberate, predictable and pragmatic relations between the EU and the UK.”

For many business leaders, the Windsor Framework marks the start of a new chapter for Northern Ireland, where businesses will be able to finally capitalise on the so-called “protocol dividend”, which gives businesses in Northern Ireland access to both the EU Single Market and the full UK internal market.

“With uncertainty over the protocol and the governance of Northern Ireland, businesses have found themselves unable to avail of the full benefits of the unique trading position that they find themselves in with unfettered access to sell goods into the EU’s Single Market and the full UK internal market,” said McGrane.

“We hope today marks a new beginning for businesses considering investing in Northern Ireland or establishing joint ventures between Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain. We would encourage all stakeholders to give this framework the consideration it deserves as a pathway to the certainty that all businesses crave.”