The UK government and the European Commission have announced the signing of the Windsor Framework, an agreement (reached in principle) to amend the existing Northern Ireland Protocol. This proposed new deal has yet to be voted on by the UK Parliament.
The most important point to highlight is that this will only have an impact on the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). Therefore, this is most likely to affect businesses that have a presence in Great Britain, for example in England, which want to then distribute goods to Northern Ireland via this presence in England. If your supply chain does not involve the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – the new Windsor Framework will not be relevant.
The Protocol was part of the United Kingdom's (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) withdrawal from the European Union. The Protocol effectively created a border for products in the Irish Sea, ie between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This was because despite the United Kingdom leaving the EU, Northern Ireland remained in the EU's single markets for goods. To avoid the need for a land border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (an EU Member State) the Protocol enforced checks and onerous paperwork requirements for goods moving between the two countries.
This was causing significant delays and bureaucracy for businesses seeking to import goods into Northern Ireland. Once the existing grace period expired, the Protocol was set to require a customs declaration to be filled in for every parcel entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain. This was causing concern for e-commerce and online marketplaces delivering into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
The Protocol was also set to result in some products from Great Britain, such as certain meats and vegetables, being banned from Northern Ireland once the existing transitional measures elapsed, due to the fact that these did not meet EU requirements. It was also set to require export declarations for goods being exported from Northern Ireland to Great Britain (despite that fact that these goods would be remaining within the United Kingdom).
The Framework is intended to remove some of these problems. Goods will be put into two separate 'lanes'. Goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain that are intended to stay within Northern Ireland will be in the 'Green Lane'. This Green Lane will require minimal paperwork and products will only be subject to physical checks if fraud or non-compliance is suspected.
A supplementary declaration (a complex form which is currently required when goods enter Northern Ireland from Great Britain) will no longer be required. There will be a 'Red Lane' for products that enter Northern Ireland but that are destined for the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU, and the same stringent checks will remain in place. If the importer cannot demonstrate that the goods will stay within Northern Ireland, then the goods will have to join the Red Lane.
High risk foods products from Great Britain which were set to be banned from entering Northern Ireland under the Protocol will now be accepted in Northern Ireland if they meet UK standards – as long as these do not then enter the Republic of Ireland. These goods will need to be marked "Not for EU".
Customs declarations will not be needed for parcels entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain. The requirement to fill in export declarations for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain will also be removed.
The UK Parliament is set to vote on the Framework but a date for this vote is yet to be announced – therefore these changes are yet to be confirmed. The main opposition party in the UK, Labour, is prepared to vote in favour of the UK government's renegotiated Framework, however some of the government's own MPs and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), one of the main politic parties in Northern Ireland has yet to confirm whether it will back the deal. The DUP has refused to enter into the power sharing government in Northern Ireland until the Protocol is renegotiated – which caused the devolved government in Northern Ireland to collapse.
We will provide a further update once the UK Parliament has voted on the Framework and we have seen the detail of the legislative proposals introduced by the UK government to implement these reforms.