Government in talks with NI parties as 'staggered' introduction of Windsor Framework planned

Mon 6 Mar 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

UK and EU flags billowing in the sky

Government officials are holding talks with Northern Irish political parties today (6 March), as prime minister Rishi Sunak’s administration looks to assuage unionist concerns over the Windsor Framework.

The government is also expected to provide more details on the new deal, including how the so-called ‘Stormont Brake’ will operate, according to the BBC.

Last week, Sunak signed the deal, which alters the Northern Ireland Protocol,with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Windsor.

Less paperwork and checks

If approved, the framework will allow goods moving from Great Britain into Northern Ireland only to move through a ‘green lane’ at Northern Irish ports and face minimal paperwork and physical checks.

Goods bound for the Republic of Ireland would use a ‘red lane’ and face customs checks.

Two year timeline

However, according to the Guardian, government sources have confirmed that the revised set of rules could take up to two years to be fully implemented.

One source said the government is “intentionally giving industry time to prepare. Essentially, it is a phased introduction over this year and in 2024.”

Politico notes that other issues, such as VAT and rules on movement of food and drink goods, have yet to be fully resolved.

Government negotiations

Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, has said the deal could not be re-negotiated but the government is considering legal reassurances for unionists over Northern Ireland’s constitutional place in the UK.

Heaton-Harris has also confirmed that the Stormont Brake will act as a ‘veto’ and not simply delay the legislation, according to Sky News.

As part of the framework, the brake would give Stormont the ability to prevent changes in EU goods law from applying to Northern Ireland.

‘Government oversell’

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has called for more clarity and suggested the government has been “overselling” what had been achieved in the agreement, reports the Newsletter.

Prominent DUP figures, including Lord Dodds and MPs Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley, have suggested that the deal potentially does not go far enough to address concerns on trade and sovereignty.

However, the Belfast Telegraph reports that a former DUP minister, Jim Wells, has claimed that Donaldson is “keen to do a deal.”

Labour support

Speaking in Northern Ireland last week, Labour leader Keir Starmer said he believes the Windsor Framework “gives enough” to end the Stormont stalemate, reports the Independent.

He said he is glad the DUP is taking time to consider the new deal and described it as “welcome”, adding that there is now a “window of opportunity”.

Lost Horizon?

Meanwhile, Sunak has not yet decided whether the UK will re-join the EU’s €95.5bn Horizon science programme following the breakthrough in relations with Brussels.

Von der Leyen said work would begin immediately on Britain becoming an associate member of Horizon once the new framework was implemented, but the PM is said to be sceptical about its value, FT sources claim.

The UK had been expected to contribute £15bn for the full seven-year Horizon programme, but three years have already passed and the two sides must agree how much the UK would have to provide.

Sunak is said to be studying an alternative plan B, drawn up by science minister George Freeman, for Britain to develop its own £6bn global science collaboration plan.