Windsor Framework deal for Northern Ireland hailed as ‘new chapter’ in relationship between UK and EU

Prime minister Rishi Sunak urges hardline Brexiteers in his party to back Windsor Framework as it would help Britain to ‘take back control’

British prime minister Rishi Sunak has said “a new chapter in the relationship” between his country and the European Union has begun as he unveiled a breakthrough deal on trading arrangements in the North in the shadow of Windsor Castle alongside European Commission president, Ursula Von der Leyen.

Later in the House of Commons he took up the language of the hardline Brexiteers in his own party and turned it back on them, urging them to back the landmark Windsor Framework that he insisted would help Britain to “take back control”.

The deal was finally agreed on Monday after two years of negotiations to reform the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was agreed by Boris Johnson in 2019 to get an exit trade deal from the EU. The protocol angered many unionists who argue it undermined the North’s position in the UK by imposing on it too many EU single market rules that do not apply in Britain.

Mr Sunak said fundamental changes to the protocol’s text to turn it into the Windsor Framework meant the old agreement had been “rewritten”, something he said many had told him “could not be done”.


He has promised to give “time and space” to scrutinise the deal to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is refusing to go back into a powersharing arrangement in the North until its concerns are met.

The British prime minister also committed to holding a parliamentary vote on the Windsor Framework, in a “put up or shut up” challenge to hardline Brexiteers who have threatened to rebel. He did not give a timescale for the vote, saying only that it would take place at the “appropriate time”.

Mr Sunak said the deal would free up trade between the North and Britain by splitting imports into the North into different customs lanes: green lanes with no checks for goods from Britain that would stay in the North, and a red lane with enhanced checks for goods due to be sent on to the Republic and the European single market.

Mr Sunak said the new arrangements would ensure that Northern Ireland’s supermarket and pharmacies would be able to stock any foodstuffs and medicines sold elsewhere in Britain, but which under the protocol might have been restricted under single market rules.

The agreement also returns to the British government the full right to set VAT rules and import duties in the North.

In a nod to one of the EU’s red lines in the talks, the Court of Justice of the European Union will, as Ms Von der Leyen insisted, remain the “ultimate arbiter” of trade disputes over EU law in the North.

The Windsor Framework includes a mechanism for the Assembly to raise objections to EU laws that apply to the North. The “Stormont Brake”, based on a provision of the Belfast Agreement, will allow a cross-party section of MLAs to trigger a UK veto on certain EU trade rules in the North.

Mr Sunak also promised to ditch the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which angered the EU by proposing to give Britain the powers to unilaterally scrap elements of the previous deal. The EU has also agreed to drop any legal actions against the UK on the issue.

Hardline Tory Eurosceptics will meet on Tuesday night to assess the deal, after it has been scrutinised by their lawyers.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said his party would vote with the government on the new deal.

Mr Sunak is expected to travel to Northern Ireland on Tuesday to meet business leaders.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said his party would take time to study the detail, adding that while it was “clear that significant progress has been secured across a number of areas” there “remain key issues of concern” for the DUP. “There can be no disguising the fact that in some sectors of our economy EU law remains applicable in Northern Ireland,” he said.

Sinn Féin vice-president and first minister designate Michelle O’Neill welcomed the deal and called for the swift return of the Stormont institutions.

As Mr Sunak and Dr von der Leyen held their press conference, diplomats representing the 27 EU member states were cautiously positive. But they stressed that time was needed to work through the detail of a long agreement that touches on everything from state aid rules to microchips in pets.

EU officials said a new labelling system would allow for Irish Sea checks to drop to 5 per cent of their current level once the labels for products destined for Northern Ireland shops were fully phased in by 2025.

There was intense interest around the “Stormont Brake”. Asked whether it could potentially apply to other jurisdictions with which the EU has complex trade relations, such as Switzerland, an EU official stressed it was “exclusively for Northern Ireland”.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times