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Windsor Framework: All you need to know as the green and red lane system starts

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen pictured following the announcement of the Windsor Framework. Picture by Dan Kitwood/PA Wire
UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen pictured following the announcement of the Windsor Framework. Picture by Dan Kitwood/PA Wire UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen pictured following the announcement of the Windsor Framework. Picture by Dan Kitwood/PA Wire

The Windsor Framework has reached a major milestone yesterday as a green lane/red lane system starts operating along with 'not for EU' labels. Let's take a look at how the new system designed to help implement Brexit will work.

Why is it called the Windsor Framework?

The deal between Britain and the EU was named after a meeting between Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen at the Fairmont Hotel at Windsor Great Park on February 27 2023. The Windsor agreement was announced later that day at the Windsor Guildhall.

Did MPs have a Northern Ireland Windsor Framework vote?

A vote occurred in the House of Commons on March 22 2023. MPs voted 515 to 29 - a majority of 486 - in favour of the agreement. Those who voted against it included the DUP's six MPs and 22 Tories.

What is the green/red lane system of the Windsor agreement?

There are no literal green or red lanes, they are merely a metaphor for where goods coming into the north will go. Goods travelling to the Republic or elsewhere in the EU will use the conceptual “red lane”, which includes customs declarations and some checks.

Goods to be sold in Northern Ireland will use a notional “green lane” with minimal paperwork and no checks.

Companies that use the green lane will be signed up to a trusted trader scheme.

How is the Windsor Framework different from the Northern Ireland Protocol?

Jointly agreed by the UK and EU, the Northern Ireland Protocol was the part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement that dealt with the main obstacle in the divorce talks – the Irish land border.

To keep the border free flowing, London and the EU essentially moved new regulatory and customs checks required by Brexit to the Irish Sea.

That has introduced red tape on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, creating a headache for many businesses and enraging loyalists and unionists who claim the north's place within the UK has been undermined.

The Windsor Framework has already introduced the same VAT, alcohol duty and energy tax rules as the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland, which did not exist under the Protocol.

Sunday’s changes are designed to cut paperwork and red tape for many traders.

 

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris has said the Windsor Framework means the vast majority of Northern Ireland’s economic life remains “umbilically connected to the rest of the UK”, with most of the economy untouched by anything in the framework, adding that concerns over the supply of human medicines have been addressed.

Sunday’s changes are designed to cut paperwork and red tape for many traders.

Mr Heaton-Harris said: “The steak bake or infamous sausage roll will never again need to be accompanied by a signed certificate from a vet to move into NI from GB, removing a major irritant with the old arrangements.”

What are 'not for EU' labels?

The labels and other information in stores on some products, to prevent these from being sold in the Republic.

These labels on meat and dairy will apply in stores in Britain next year.

Stuart Anderson, head of public affairs for Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said: “A significant amount of work has been undertaken in a short time to get us to this implementation phase, particularly by those involved in the retail supply chain.

“These are new processes being applied to what are often high-volume and complex movements.

“But business has worked hard to ensure we get off to the best possible start.

“This is new for everyone involved.

“Continued engagement and a solutions-focused approach with government will be important to help businesses adapt and deal with any issues as and when they arise.”

What about animals and plants?

Mirroring the so-called green and red lanes, safeguards will also be put in place to prevent such goods from entering the EU’s single market and to ensure the protection of the bloc’s public, animal and plant health, as well as consumer rights.

The new sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules governing agrifood, plants and pets mean previously prohibited chilled meat goods from Britain to be consumed in the north only can enter the region with minimal certification requirements and controls, once agreed safeguards have been put in place.

The movement of certain plants, based on a special plant health label, will become easier, as will the movement of agricultural machinery. The ban on seed potatoes will be removed.

Travelling with pets from Britain to Northern Ireland will require a simple pet travel document, a microchip, and a declaration by the owner that the pet will not travel to the EU.

What does the Windsor Framework mean for medicines?

Another set of new rules will ensure that all medicines, including novel medicines, will be available in Northern Ireland at the same time as in the rest of the UK.

This will enable medicines to use the same packaging and labelling across the UK. As such, all medicines on the UK market will be labelled as for sale only within the UK.

These measures will commence on 1 January 2025.

What are the issues with the Windsor Framework?

The DUP has been blocking powersharing at Stormont for more than a year in protest at the internal UK trade barriers created by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The party says the Windsor Framework does not sufficiently address its concerns and has made clear it will not accept a return to devolution until the British government provides further assurances, by way of legislation, over Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.

During a speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Chris Heaton-Harris said the British government agreed the Windsor Framework with the European Union after recognising flaws with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He said the framework removes trade barriers, allows goods available in Britain to move freely to Northern Ireland, and safeguards the north's place within the United Kingdom internal market.

He said: “I know concerns remain in Northern Ireland about the Windsor Framework and we will continue to work to address them. There is scope to do so, based on the principle that the UK internal market must be promoted as well as protected.

“But let us also remind ourselves of the fundamental truth – the vast majority of Northern Ireland’s economic life is dependent on its connection with the rest of the United Kingdom and that reality will not change.

“It’s time to get on with business.”

Sinn Féin's Declan Kearney has said the framework's implementation created an opportunity to "move forward and make progress".

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill has warned patience had run out with the DUP over its Stormont boycott and she called on the two governments to work on a plan to restore devolution.