Sunak and von der Leyen unveil Windsor Framework and hail 'new chapter' for EU-UK relations

Tue 28 Feb 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen at a press conference

Prime minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission (EC) president Ursula von der Leyen declared a “new chapter” in the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU as they unveiled a new deal on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol yesterday (27 February).

Dubbed “the Windsor Framework”, the new arrangement purports to “fix” the issues with the contentious protocol and aims to protect both the free flow of trade and Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.

At a joint press conference held to announce the accord, Sunak said:

“Today’s agreement 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.”

Von der Leyen said:

“This new framework will allow us to begin a new chapter. It provides for long-lasting solutions that both of us are confident will work for all people and businesses in Northern Ireland. Solutions that respond directly to the concerns they have raised.”

Three steps

Sunak announced his “three big steps forward” as part of the deal:

  1. There would be ‘green’ and ‘red’ lanes for GB-to-NI trade, with goods traveling only to Northern Ireland using the green lane and enjoying reduced customs checks
  2. Sunak stressed that Northern Ireland would enjoy a protected place in the UK. He also said that legislation would be amended to allow for changes to VAT and excise, and that a settlement on medicines had been reached
  3. The creation of a ‘Stormont brake’, giving the Northern Ireland devolved assembly the power to stop new EU rules from applying there. Once the brake is triggered, the UK would veto the new rules being applied in Northern Ireland

Downing Street has also confirmed that the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill would be dropped.

Von der Leyen, for her part, declared that there would be no hard border on the Irish sea and confirmed that new data-sharing arrangements were critical for the trading mechanisms under the deal.

She also said that new customs arrangements would be based on an “expanded trusted trader scheme”, which would also be open to British businesses.


After the press conference, the PM gave a statement to the House of Commons, where he claimed that the deal was a “breakthrough” and that it would remove “thousands of pages of EU laws” and make “permanent, legally binding changes to the protocol treaty itself.”

He promised that Parliament would get a vote on the Windsor Framework.

Keir Starmer has indicated his Labour Party will support the deal when the vote came.

According to Reuters, Sunak is continuing his charm offensive by visiting Belfast and attempting to sell the deal to unionists.

Concerns remain

The DUP has remained cautious, saying there had been “significant progress” while warning that “key issues of concern remain,” the BBC reports.

According to Sky News, European courts retain their jurisdiction over trade disputes that could arise under the framework. This was a key sticking point for the DUP and members of the European Research Group (ERG).

The ERG are holding a ‘star chamber’ meeting today to examine the deal, according to the Guardian.

However, Steve Baker, a government minister and ex-chairman of the ERG called the deal a “fantastic result”.

Former PM Boris Johnson remains tight-lipped on the deal, with PoliticsHome reporting he has urged the DUP to be cautious about the agreement.

International response

US president Joe Biden, who has taken an interest in the negotiations, welcomed the agreement as an “essential step” in preserving the Good Friday Agreement.

Other European leaders, such as Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar and French president Emmanuel Macron, also expressed support for the deal.

Leaders of Sin Fein and the SDLP – two of the largest republican parties – called for the restoration of Stormont in response to the framework’s announcement, according to the NewsLetter.

Another deal on the Horizon

The agreement is also reported to be positive news for the UK’s membership of the £96bn Horizon science programme, which the UK had been excluded from as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol dispute.

Responding to questions in the press conference, von der Leyen said that the Windsor Framework was “good news for scientists and researchers in the EU and in the UK”.

UK scientists have welcomed the prospect of the UK’s re-entry into the EU’s science programme, as reported by the FT.

A detailed breakdown of the Windsor Framework by customs experts can be read here