NI Secretary says ‘scope’ to deal with unionist concerns about Windsor Framework

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris walks on stage during the Conservative Party annual conference at Manchester Central (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris walks on stage during the Conservative Party annual conference at Manchester Central (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

There is “scope” to address unionist concerns around the Windsor Framework, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.

His comments come after key measures of the Windsor Framework came into effect for Northern Ireland on Sunday, including the green/red lane system for the movement of goods and “not for EU” labels.

Goods coming into the region which are travelling to the Republic of Ireland 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.

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.

Consumers may notice some changes in Northern Ireland and parts of the UK with the introduction of “not for EU” labels and other information in stores on some products, to prevent these from being sold in Ireland.

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

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

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

On Sunday, Chris Heaton-Harris opened his speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester by saying his job as Northern Ireland Secretary is “the best job in Government”.

He said the 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 Great Britain to move freely to Northern Ireland, and safeguards the regions place within the United Kingdom internal market.

“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.”

Mr Heaton-Harris told the Conservative conference that he has been working to get politicians back to Stormont and that there is “scope” to deal with unionist concerns.

“So I say to my friends in the unionist community we will continue working to answer your remaining concerns.

“You know, and we know, progress has been made and we are working in a constructive spirit.

Conservative Party Conference 2023
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“And it is clear that the vast majority of people and their political leaders want to get this done.”

In his speech, he hailed businesses such as the Harland and Wolff shipbuilding yard, Hinch Distillery, O’Neills sportswear and the Game Of Thrones Studios.

“O’Neills is just one example of how Northern Ireland contributes to our economy and the Union.”

He said he was also “actively exploring” a new ferry route between Larne and Liverpool.

Mr Heaton-Harris said more than 1,600 new businesses have signed up to the UK internal market scheme, meaning “more traders than ever want to do business in Northern Ireland”.

Speaking on the main stage at the Tory conference, the Northern Ireland Secretary said: “Let me just give you one stat to demonstrate how the Windsor Framework is a major improvement on the protocol and how it will be noticed by the people of Northern Ireland itself.

“Over 1,600 new businesses have signed up to our new internal market scheme, meaning more traders than ever want to do business in Northern Ireland.

“Conference, I just want to say something about the future of Northern Ireland: there’s always been a lot of doom and gloom around this subject for too long.

“In reality, Northern Ireland’s economic prospects are unbelievably promising. A couple of weeks ago, I, alongside the Secretary of State for Business and Trade Kemi (Badenoch), hosted an investment summit in Northern Ireland, 160 international businesses came along, some visiting Northern Ireland for the first time.

“They came because business truly recognises the opportunities that exist.”