Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash
The European Commission and UK have reached a political agreement in principle in the long running dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol.
Known as the Windsor Framework, the new deal constitutes what the EU calls a “comprehensive set of joint solutions aimed at addressing, in a definitive way” the practical challenges faced by citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland.
The Commission said it “thereby provides them with lasting certainty and predictability.”
The joint solutions cover, amongst other things, new arrangements on customs, agri-food, medicines, VAT and excise, as well as specific instruments designed to ensure that the voices of the people of Northern Ireland are better heard on specific issues particularly relevant to the communities there.
The EU says the new arrangements are “underpinned by robust safeguards to ensure the integrity of the EU’s Single Market, to which Northern Ireland has a unique access.”
The political agreement, reached on Monday, in principle allows the two sides to “open a new chapter” in the EU-UK partnership, “based on mutual trust and full cooperation, also allowing to unlock the full potential of their relationship.”
Reaction was swift with the EPP saying the deal offers “practical solutions and hope to people and businesses in the region.”
But leading EPP Group MEPs have warned that “strong leadership is needed to overcome remaining political hurdles.”
“This is a good day for EU-UK relations. The deal will lower the costs of doing business for traders. It will also settle the flow of goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland without breaching EU rules related to the Single Market”, said Polish MEP Danuta Hübner,who has been the negotiator of all Brexit-related laws in the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee.
Hübner also underlined that the UK’s Protocol Bill should be promptly withdrawn: “Looking forward, I hope that settling issues linked to the Protocol will open the path to solving other pending issues, and that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will be promptly and fully withdrawn and the EU Retained Law Bill will not lower the UK’s obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement, the Protocol, and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement nor damage their enforcement mechanisms.”
A political test lies ahead before the deal can become reality, according to Irish MEP Seán Kelly, First Vice-Chair of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.
He said, “We all want to see this agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol become a reality in order to provide stability and more certainty for people and businesses in the region. A resolution of this impasse offers the hope for the eventual return of the Northern Ireland Assembly so that the electorate may have proper representation. It is also very important economically, by offering businesses the chance to seize trading opportunities not only in terms of Northern Ireland, but also from an all-island perspective.
“The EU recognised the challenges in terms of implementing the Protocol and the Commission has been more than patient and very flexible in negotiations in order to find workable solutions. Now, we need to see strong, responsible leadership within the Conservative Party and the DUP in particular. This moment is a real political test for Prime Minister Sunak.
“The Prime Minister must create a coalition of the logical, who are capable of looking beyond the immediate term, to communicate the fact-based realities of the situation in order to make this deal a reality”, Kelly said.
The deal is an important step towards restoring EU-UK relations, according to another EPP member Christophe Hansen, Group Spokesman on Trade.
He said,“Now that the delusional Brexit bubble has been burst by reality, I am glad that a pragmatic solution has been found to resolve the challenges surrounding the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“Though it still needs to clear many institutional hurdles, I welcome this hard-fought progress as a sign of hope that will allow two natural allies to cooperate more closely on pressing matters such as the war in Ukraine.”
Before scrutinising the detail, the S&D Group said it “welcomes in principle a new agreement on legally and politically sound solutions that work in practice and at the same time fully respect the spirit of the original agreement.”
In light of Monday’s agreement, which follows years of intense negotiations between both sides, S&D MEPs said they “urge the UK government to discard the domestic legislation that would give the UK government the power to unilaterally suspend parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
Pedro Silva Pereira, EP Rapporteur for the Implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, said:“The announcement of an agreement in principle for the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol is very good news.
“It was made possible by the flexibility shown by the Commission from the very beginning to reduce unnecessary red tape at the Irish Sea border while firmly safeguarding the integrity of EU’s Single Market. At the same time, it respects our red line of not renegotiating the original Northern Ireland Protocol. In our scrutiny role, we will look very carefully at the detail of the deal so that there are no more breaches from the part of the UK. We expect now the withdrawal of the UK’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. Keeping the Northern Ireland Protocol is crucial to protect the Good Friday Agreement signed 25 years ago.”
Meanwhile, Thijs Reuten, S&D spokesperson on relations with the UK, said, “What we have on the table now is an agreement that protects the integrity of the EU single market, that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland and that protects the Good Friday Agreement. It’s finally time to make it work.
“Hopefully we can leave the dark days of irresponsible Conservative Party infighting and ideological Brexit behind us, which were jeopardising peace and which proved increasingly harmful to the livelihoods and jobs of many UK citizens. We have signed deals before with the UK government so this has been a case of ‘once bitten, twice shy’.
“Clearly what’s important is to have workable arrangements that both sides can fully implement, all the while respecting the spirit of the original Withdrawal Agreement. We now expect the UK government to stick to its word and to implement this agreement for the sake of citizens and businesses on both sides.”
Further comment comes from BusinessEurope Director General Markus J. Beyrer, who says: “The deal helps to prepare the ground for closer EU-UK cooperation.
“European business welcomes the announcement of an EU-UK deal on Northern Ireland. We will assess it in detail over the coming days. The deal promises to end a long-standing row about the post-Brexit trading arrangements in the region and help prepare the ground for closer EU-UK cooperation.
“BusinessEurope has always been open to pragmatic solutions that ease the flow of goods whilst respecting the Good Friday Agreement and maintaining the integrity of the EU Single Market. We hope that the announcement will lead to a durable outcome that helps to normalise the relationship between the EU and the UK. This will allow both sides to deepen their cooperation on issues key for the future competitiveness of our businesses. Business stands ready to engage constructively in this process.”