UK and EU reach agreement on new trade rules Northern Ireland in an attempt to resolve a difficult issue that has caused post-Brexit tensions in Europe and on the island of Ireland.
The deal could potentially solve the problem of imports and border checks in Northern Ireland, one of the most difficult and controversial aspects of the UK’s separation from the EU.
Speaking at a press conference in Windsor, near London, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the new deal, dubbed the Windsor Framework, would ensure “smooth trade” in the UK, “protect Northern Ireland’s place” in the UK and “ensure” sovereignty of Northern Ireland.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged tense relations between the UK and the EU after Brexit. She said that in order for both sides to “make the most of our partnership”, new solutions are needed. She pointed to UK-EU cooperation on Ukraine and said “we need to listen to each other’s concerns very carefully.”
The aim of the deal is to address the problems created by the Northern Ireland Protocol, an addendum to the Brexit deal negotiated by Boris Johnson and the EU in 2019. The protocol was created to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland. Ireland has joined the EU, which means that goods do not need to be checked between the republic and the province.
The two leaders identified three main areas where the new deal will improve the protocol.
Sunak said the deal would protect the flow of free trade between the UK and Northern Ireland by creating green and red lines for goods entering Northern Ireland. Goods that may be brought into the Republic of Ireland will be placed on a red stripe before entering Northern Ireland. Goods that remain in Northern Ireland will move freely, Sunak said, meaning “if food is on supermarket shelves in the UK, it will be available in Northern Ireland.”
The Prime Minister said the UK-EU deal had secured “Northern Ireland’s place in the union” by allowing the UK government to determine the VAT rates applicable in Northern Ireland, as opposed to the current system, which is determined by the EU. He said it would allow recent policies, such as reform to lower the price of beer pints in British pubs, now applied in Northern Ireland.
Finally, he also announced a new “Storont brake” that would allow a government-handled “emergency brake” for Northern Ireland for any new EU laws that would not be imposed on the province.
“This will establish a clear process by which a democratically elected assembly can put the brakes on changes to EU goods, rules that will have a significant and lasting impact on daily life,” Sunak said.
He added that if the Northern Ireland government hit the brakes, the Westminster government would have veto power over the bill.
Von der Leyen arrived in the UK on Monday for final talks with Sunak before announcing the deal in the House of Commons. Buckingham Palace has confirmed that von der Leyen will also meet King Charles III for tea at Windsor Castle.
Negotiations have intensified in recent weeks after months of deadlock over how to process checks in Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK but shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.
Now that the deal has been struck, Sunak is facing political backlash from hardline Eurosceptics in his Conservative Party.
Von der Leyen’s meeting with the king caused controversy. “The King is happy to meet any world leader if he visits the UK and the government advises him to do so,” the palace said announcing the sit-in.
According to a royal source, the meeting will be an opportunity for Charles to discuss topics such as the war in Ukraine and climate change.
But he was criticized by some prominent trade unionists. “I can’t believe Number 10 would ask His Majesty the King to be part of a deal as controversial as this,” former Northern Ireland Prime Minister Arlene Foster tweeted. “It’s rude and will go very badly at NI.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol, signed with Brussels by former Prime Minister Johnson, attempted to recognize the delicate situation that Brexit has created in Northern Ireland.
Usually having a border between an EU member state and a non-EU country such as the UK requires infrastructure such as customs posts. But during a period of sectarian strife known as the Troubles, security posts along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland became a target for paramilitary groups fighting for a united Ireland.
In theory, the Northern Ireland Protocol was intended to eliminate the need for border infrastructure. It was agreed that Northern Ireland would remain under EU regulation and that goods entering Northern Ireland from the UK would be inspected prior to their arrival, effectively establishing a maritime boundary.
This infuriated the pro-British trade union community in Northern Ireland, who claimed they were being cut off from the rest of the UK and forced into a republic. The dispute over the arrangements has partly been an obstacle to the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been suspended since 2017. Sharing power between unions and Republicans is a key part of the Good Friday Peace Agreement. deal that ended the Troubles.
The disputes also affected trade between the UK and Northern Ireland to the point where the UK did not fully comply with the protocol.