The “Windsor framework” announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen that will lay down new trade arrangements for Northern Ireland to try to reduce friction between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland without erecting a border on the island of Ireland.
While some EU regulations will still apply for Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister has negotiated a “Stormont Brake” that will allow the Northern Irish assembly to delay the implementation of new EU rules.
The Prime Minister confirmed that there will be a vote in the House of Commons on this deal which could prove challenging if the European Research Group (ERG) and the right of the Conservative Party decide to vote against the Government.
Red lanes and Green Lanes
Central to the new deal are new arrangements for UK goods moving to and destined to stay in Northern Ireland which will be able to use a fast “green lane” to move through customs, allowing reduced friction of trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. It was announced by the Prime Minister that this arrangement would cover all medicines approved for use by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency(MHRA).
President Von der Leyen however was quick to make clear that the European Court of Justice will still judge matters that pertain to the remaining EU law within Northern Ireland as happens with all EU law. In the past this point has been a sticking point for ERG Conservative members of Parliament.
Von der Leyen Grand tour
President Von der Leyen has had an eventful day travelling around the UK as negotiations concluded:
- She arrived via Eurostar this morning into St Pancras Station
- Then she headed for Smith Square to visit Europe House and the European Union Delegation to the UK
- Next came a meeting between the President and the Prime Minister
- Following that the “Windsor Framework” was announced at a Press Conference
- After that it’s expected that the President will either head back to London or meet with the King at Windsor
- Rishi Sunak will head straight back to London to brief Parliament at 18:30
Getting the deal through
Now that the deal has been agreed the Prime Minister will need to gain support first from the right wing of his own Party in the House of Commons and then from Unionists, particularly those of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members in Northern Ireland.
The DUP are thought to be a particularly hard sell on this deal, they have refused to even form a Government required by the Good Friday Agreement at Stormont since Sinn Fein became the largest party at the assembly last year.
The Prime Minister will likely hope that changes to the Northern Irish Protocol as part of the Windsor Framework will allow the DUP to join the Northern Irish Government and resume the Stormont Assembly, ideally in time for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April.
The fact that this deal was possible and the positive mood music between the Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission shows just how able a politician Rishi Sunak is. Whatever the fate of this agreement, the fact that it has been reached reflects very well on the Prime Minister and contrasts him favourably with recent Prime Ministers, particularly Boris Johnson.
Sadly, the ball has now left Rishi’s court and the fate the deal is in the hands of the ERG and DUP. Strictly speaking the PM could rely on Labour votes to get this deal through the House of Commons but if the DUP resist the deal and maintain their absence from Stormont then the deal is dead.
For now, we should be grateful that at least in Number 10, some of the wounds of Brexit are starting to heal.