Last reviewed 28 February 2023

After a visit from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, which included a meeting with King Charles, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced that an agreement in principle has been reached by the UK and EU regarding what will be known as the Windsor Framework.

This will, if accepted by the various parties involved, replace the Northern Ireland Protocol which has been a source of tension between the UK and the EU since it was introduced by the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2020.

Describing it as a decisive breakthrough, Mr Sunak said that it would deliver smooth-flowing trade within the whole of the UK, protect Northern Ireland’s place in the Union and safeguard sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland.

It was, he continued, the beginning of a new chapter in the UK’s relationship with the EU and one that will protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

“The only EU law that applies in Northern Ireland under the Framework is the minimum necessary to avoid a hard border with Ireland and allow Northern Irish businesses to continue accessing the EU market,” the Prime Minister insisted.

Ms von der Leyen concluded her remarks by saying: “Today, our achievement allows us to put forward definitive solutions that work for people and businesses in Northern Ireland and that protect our Single Market. It also allows us to turn the page towards a bilateral relationship that mirrors the one of close allies standing shoulder to shoulder in times of crisis.”

The Windsor Framework

The full text of the 29-page document can be found at GOV.UK, together with numerous other documents relating to the negotiations.

These include a Political Declaration by the European Commission and the Government of the United Kingdom, a Draft Joint Declaration by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the European Union in the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee on Dialogue and Goods and a Draft Recommendation of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee on Market Surveillance and Enforcement.

So what does the Windsor Framework contain? The following are its three key aims.

  • Deliver the smooth flow of trade within the UK by having goods destined for Northern Ireland travel from Great Britain through a new Green Lane, with a separate Red Lane for goods at risk of moving onto the EU. In the Green Lane, “burdensome customs bureaucracy will be scrapped” and food retailers such as supermarkets, restaurants and wholesalers will no longer need “hundreds of certificates” for every lorry.

  • Safeguard Northern Ireland’s place in the Union by disapplying swathes of EU law and restoring UK rules in their place to fix everyday problems in areas from food safety and medicines supply to alcohol duty rules.

  • Address the democratic deficit by enabling, through a new “Stormont Brake”, votes in Stormont to lead to a UK veto on new rules, embedded in new text at the heart of the treaty, to provide democratic oversight and cross-community safeguards in Northern Ireland.

What next?

The Prime Minister now has to convince the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to accept the Windsor Framework and return to the power-sharing arrangement in Stormont. He also needs to convince sceptical members of his own party that he has not conceded too much to the EU in the negotiations.

Mr Sunak has promised MPs a vote on the Windsor Framework at some point but has first insisted that all sides take the time to read and understand what is proposed.