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Stormont consent: How first test of Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit rules works

‘Applicability motion’ engages a democratic consent process of the Windsor Framework in the context of a vote on extending an EU law to the North

The Stormont Assembly vote on the extension of a new EU law to Northern Ireland is the first test of a mechanism contained within the post-Brexit Windsor Framework trade deal.

Known as an applicability motion, it uses one of the framework’s democratic consent processes.

The Windsor Framework agreement was drawn up between the UK and EU last February and replaced the controversial protocol deal on post-Brexit trade rules between the UK and Northern Ireland, which led the DUP to collapse Stormont for two years.

The replacement deal – under which the North continues to follow some EU laws on goods – gives Assembly members a voice on the implementation of new or amended EU goods rules.


Under the protocol, Stormont politicians had no influence.

The applicability motion is one of three mechanisms available to MLAs and relates to the introduction of new EU laws. To come into effect, they must have cross-community support with the majority of unionist and nationalist parties backing them.

The so-called “Stormont brake” was widely reported in the wake of the deal being struck and involves changes and amendments to existing EU legislation. It requires 30 members of the Assembly from at least two parties to request – but only in exceptional circumstances and as a last resort – that amendments must not be applied in Northern Ireland.

The democratic consent vote is the third mechanism and will take place in the Assembly later this year when MLAs will be asked whether they consent to the continued application of articles five to 10 of the Windsor Framework – essentially the provisions which govern the movement of goods and electricity on the island of Ireland. This was agreed to avoid a hard border and to protect the EU’s single market.

Tuesday’s motion brought forward by the DUP – which was defeated after unionist parties voted against it – concerned a rule on the protection of geographical indicators for craft and industrial products, such as pottery and ceramics.

The outcome is significant because it now falls to the UK government to decide on whether it will introduce the law.

“The default position is that the UK government needs an applicability motion to be carried; the question is the extent to which it believes that the addition of the new EU Act would actually create a new regulatory border in terms of the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland,” David Phinnemore, professor of European politics at Queen’s University Belfast, said.

Business sources have privately expressed concerns about the “lack of engagement” prior to Tuesday’s motion, which DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson described as a “watershed moment” but the SDLP dismissed as a “stunt”.

One industry representative told The Irish Times: “If someone was to ask me what my view on that particular piece of legislation was, I would struggle because I wasn’t aware the issue was coming. The one thing I would be impressing on everyone in the Assembly is if this happens again, make sure there’s some meaningful degree of consultation.”

Another said that, having spoken to colleagues this afternoon, “nobody is quite really aware of what this is – whether it’s an opportunity or a threat… This is more a sense of ‘test your brakes’ rather than a reason to use them at the moment.”