Windsor Framework: What are the main points of the new UK-EU deal?

Agreement will go to vote in Westminster, and some aspects will need European Parliament approval

Sunak Von Der Leyen

The European Union and United Kingdom have announced a political agreement in principle on a deal to resolve the long-standing dispute over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements, known as the Northern Ireland protocol.

So, what’s in the new agreement, known as the Windsor framework?

Reduced checks at ports and airports

Since 2021 Northern Ireland remained in line with the EU single market for goods, in order to avoid Brexit causing a hard border on the island of Ireland. This meant that to safeguard the EU’s internal market, goods arriving from Britain needed to be checked at Northern Ireland’s ports and airports.

Under the new agreement, products for sale in Northern Ireland only will carry labels stating as much. This will allow for checks to reduce over time to reach just 5 per cent of their current frequency by 2025, according to EU officials.

Less paperwork

Goods arriving from Britain destined only for Northern Ireland with little risk of passing into the European Union will travel through so-called green lanes, which will reduce “an amount of paperwork, reduce customs, and checks on the ground”, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said as she unveiled the deal alongside British prime minister Rishi Sunak.

New post-Brexit trade arrangements for North

Northern Ireland retailers will have to qualify as trusted traders to benefit from the reduced paperwork.

“It means food retailers like supermarkets, restaurants and wholesalers will no longer need hundreds of certificates for every lorry,” Sunak said. “If food is available on supermarket shelves in Great Britain, then it will be available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland.”

Personal, online shopping and business-to-business parcels sent from Britain into Northern Ireland “will have to complete no customs paperwork”, he said.

‘Stormont brake’

The Stormont Assembly will have the power to temporarily stop EU legislation coming into effect in Northern Ireland. The so-called Stormont brake is similar to the petition of concern created by the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, in which a group of at least 30 MLAs can block an assembly decision by requiring a cross-community vote. It should be used only in cases where the new legislation would have a serious impact on people’s lives in the North.

“If the brake is pulled, the UK government will have a veto. This gives the institutions of the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland a powerful new safeguard based on cross-community consent,” Sunak said.

To avoid it having to be used, the agreement sets down “extensive consultations” with Northern Ireland stakeholders on EU laws, as well as consultations with the EU about planned British regulatory changes.

The EU sees it very much as a last resort. The EU can object to its use, in which case the disagreement would go to an arbitration panel to be resolved.

How will the single market be protected?

The European Union will be able to see live data about goods entering Northern Ireland. The UK government will take over some of the work involved in transmitting the data, to reduce the burden of declarations on businesses, according to officials. There will also be enforcement safeguards.

“For this to work, we have agreed on strong safeguards, like IT access, labels and enforcement procedures that will protect the integrity of the European Union’s single market,” von der Leyen said.


“Drugs approved for use by the UK’s medicines regulator will be automatically available in every pharmacy and hospital in Northern Ireland,” Sunak said. The EU previously acted on its own to create an exemption to ensure the supply of medicines.

Changes to VAT

Northern Ireland had been required to abide by EU minimum VAT rates. Under the new agreement, the British government would be able to reduce VAT on immovable objects for sale in Northern Ireland with no risk of travelling onwards, such as heat pumps, and on alcohol served for consumption on the spot.

European Court of Justice

The role of the ECJ was a major bugbear of hardline Conservatives. Now, the two sides have made a commitment to find solutions for disputes through bilateral talks where possible, and if not, through arbitration panels. The ECJ remains the final arbiter of matters related to EU law, but wouldn’t be expected to be consulted easily or often.

What happens now?

The agreement will go to a vote in the House of Commons. It consists of multiple documents, including political declarations, agreements made by the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, and updates to EU legislation. Some will need the agreement of the 27 EU member states, which would take a few weeks, while others would need to go to the European Parliament, something that could take months.