February 28, 2023
A new chapter for the people of Northern Ireland
The Windsor Framework successfully negotiated by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has paved the way for a new and better chapter for the people of Northern Ireland.
Here is what he said to the House of Commons:
The whole House will join me in sending our very best wishes to Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell and his family.
He is a man of immense courage who both on and off duty has devoted himself to the service of others.
This House stands united with the people and leaders of all communities across Northern Ireland in condemning those who are trying to drag us back to the past.
They will never succeed.
With permission, Mr Speaker,
I’d like to make a Statement on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
After weeks of negotiations, today we have made a decisive breakthrough.
The Windsor Framework delivers free flowing trade within the whole United Kingdom.
It protects Northern Ireland’s place in our Union.
And it safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland.
By achieving all this, it restores the delicate balance inherent in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.
And Mr Speaker – it does what many said could not be done:
Removing thousands of pages of EU laws…
And making permanent, legally binding changes to the Protocol Treaty itself.
That is the breakthrough we have made.
Those are the changes we will deliver.
And now is the time to move forward as one country – one United Kingdom.
Before I turn to the details, let us remind ourselves why this matters.
It matters because at the heart of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement…
…and the reason it’s endured for a quarter of a century…
…is equal respect for the aspirations and identity of all communities, and all its three strands.
But the Northern Ireland Protocol has undermined that balance.
How can we say the Protocol protects the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement when it has caused the institutions of that Agreement to collapse?
So, in line with our legal responsibilities, we are acting today to restore the balance of that Agreement and chart a new way forward for Northern Ireland.
I pay tribute to:
Our European friends for recognising the need for change – particularly President Von der Leyen…
My predecessors for laying the groundwork for today’s agreement…
And My Right Honourable Friends the Foreign and Northern Ireland Secretaries for their perseverance in finally persuading the EU to do what it spent years refusing to do:
To rewrite the Treaty and replace it with a radical, legally binding new Framework.
Today’s agreement has three equally important objectives:
First, allowing trade to flow freely within our UK internal market.
Second, protecting Northern Ireland’s place in our Union.
And third, safeguarding sovereignty and closing the democratic deficit.
Let me take each, in turn.
Core to the problems with the Protocol was that it treated goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland as if they were crossing an international customs border.
This created extra costs and paperwork for businesses, who had to fill out complex customs declarations.
It limited choice for the people of Northern Ireland.
And it undermined the UK internal market – a matter of identity as well as economics.
Today’s agreement removes any sense of a border in the Irish Sea and ensures the free flow of trade within the UK.
We have secured a key negotiating objective:
The introduction of a new Green Lane for goods destined for Northern Ireland…
…with a separate Red Lane for those going to the EU.
Within the Green Lane, burdensome customs bureaucracy will be scrapped and replaced with data sharing of ordinary, existing commercial information.
Routine checks and tests will also be scrapped; the only checks will be those required to stop smugglers and criminals.
And our new Green Lane will be open to a broad, comprehensive range of businesses across the UK.
I’m pleased to say we have also permanently protected tariff-free movement of all types of steel into Northern Ireland.
And for goods going the other way from Northern Ireland to Great Britain…
…we have scrapped export declarations – delivering, finally, completely unfettered trade.
And Mr Speaker,
The commitment to establish the Green Lane is achieved by a legally binding amendment to the text of the Treaty itself.
This is a fundamental, far-reaching change.
And it permanently removes the border in the Irish Sea.
Perhaps the single most important area of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is food.
Three quarters of the food in Northern Ireland’s supermarkets comes from the rest of the UK.
Yet the Protocol applied the same burdens on shipments from Cairnryan to Larne as between Holyhead and Dublin.
If it was implemented in full we would see:
Supermarket lorries needing hundreds of certificates for every individual item.
Every single document checked.
Supermarket staples like sausages banned altogether.
More delays. More cost. Less choice.
So, today’s agreement fixes all this with a new, permanent, legally binding approach to food.
We will expand the Green Lane to food retailers.
And not just supermarkets – but wholesalers and hospitality, too.
Instead of hundreds of certificates, lorries will make one simple, digital declaration to confirm that goods will remain in Northern Ireland.
Visual inspections will be cut from 100% now to just 5%.
Physical checks and tests will be scrapped, unless we suspect fraud, smuggling, or disease.
And so there will be no need for vets in warehouses.
Of course, to deliver this we need to reassure the EU that food imports won’t be taken into Ireland.
So we will ask retailers to mark a small number of particularly high risk food products…
…as “not for EU”, with a phased rollout of this requirement to give them time to adjust.
And more fundamentally, we have delivered dual regulation for food – the single biggest sector by far for East-West trade, and one of the most important in people’s lives.
Under the old Protocol, retail food products made to UK standards could not be sold in Northern Ireland.
Today’s agreement completely changes that.
This means the ban on British products like sausages entering Northern Ireland has now been scrapped.
If it’s available on supermarket shelves in Great Britain, then it will be available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland.
We still need to make sure that goods moved into Northern Ireland don’t risk bringing in animal and plant diseases.
But that’s clearly a common-sense measure, never opposed by anyone…
…to prevent diseases circulating within the long-standing Single Epidemiological Zone on the island of Ireland.
And, Mr Speaker,
That brings me to the treatment of parcels.
If Protocol was fully implemented, every single parcel travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would be subject to full international customs.
You’d have needed a long, complex form to send every single parcel – even a birthday present for a niece or nephew.
And you could only have shopped online from retailers willing to deal with all that bureaucracy – with some already pulling out of Northern Ireland.
Today’s agreement fixes all of this.
It achieves something we’ve never achieved before - removing requirements of the EU customs code for people sending and receiving parcels.
Families can, rightly, send packages to each other without filling in forms.
Online retailers can serve customers in Northern Ireland as they did before.
And businesses can ship parcels through the Green Lane.
All underpinned by data sharing by parcel operators with a phased rollout and time for them to adjust.
So, Mr Speaker,
No burdensome customs bureaucracy.
No routine checks.
Bans on food products – scrapped.
Steel tariff rate quotas – fixed.
Tariff reimbursement – approved.
Vet inspections – gone.
Export declarations – gone.
Parcels paperwork – gone.
We have delivered what the people of Northern Ireland asked for and the Command Paper promised.
We have removed the border in the Irish Sea.
And trade within the UK can now flow freely.
But Mr Speaker,
To restore the balance of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, we also need to protect Northern Ireland’s place in our Union.
The Windsor Framework is about making sure that Northern Ireland gets the full benefit of being part of the United Kingdom in every respect.
Under the Protocol, in too many ways that simply wasn’t the case.
When I was Chancellor, it frustrated me that when I cut VAT on solar panels or beer duty in pubs, those tax cuts didn’t apply in Northern Ireland.
Now, we’ve amended the legal text of the Treaty, so that critical VAT and excise changes will apply to the whole of the UK.
This means zero-rates of VAT on energy-saving materials – will now apply in NI.
Reforms to alcohol duty to cut the cost of a pint – will now apply in NI.
But because we now have control over VAT policy, we can make sure that the EU’s plan to reduce the VAT threshold by £10,000 – will not apply in NI.
And nor will the SME VAT directive – that would’ve brought huge amounts of EU red tape for small businesses.
And we’re also making subsidy control provisions work as intended.
Already, just 2% of subsidy measures in Northern Ireland fall within the scope of EU approvals under the Protocol.
Nevertheless, today’s agreement goes further, addressing the so-called “reach back” of EU state aid law.
It does this by imposing stringent new tests.
For the EU to argue we’re in breach of their rules, they’d now have to demonstrate that there is a real, genuine, and material impact on NI’s trade with the EU.
That is a much higher threshold than the Protocol, limiting disputes to what the 2021 Command Paper called:
“Subsidies on a significant scale relating directly to Northern Ireland”.
We’ve also protected the special status of agriculture and fisheries subsidies in Northern Ireland…
…which will be completely outside the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
All of which means that most businesses can now trade and invest in Northern Ireland without ever having to worry about EU state aid rules again.
And the problem of “reach back” is fixed.
As well as tax and spend, the UK Government has a responsibility to protect the supply of medicines to all its citizens.
Our ability to do that is constrained by the Protocol.
The biggest problem is that drugs approved for use by the UK’s medicines regulator are not automatically available in Northern Ireland.
Imagine someone suffering with cancer in Belfast…
…seeing a potentially lifechanging new drug available everywhere else in the UK…
…but unable to access it at home.
And when the current grace period ends in 2024, the situation will get worse still:
Expensive and burdensome checks on all medicines.
Companies having to manufacture drugs with two completely different labels and supply chains.
Pharmacies needing to check every package with complex scanners.
And when 80% of Northern Ireland’s medicines come from Great Britain, those frictions pose a serious risk to the supply of medicines to the people of Northern Ireland.
To fix this, today’s agreement achieves something unprecedented: it provides dual regulation for medicines.
The UK’s regulator will approve all drugs for the whole UK market, including NI, with no role for the European Medicines Agency…
…fully protecting the supply of medicines from Great Britain into Northern Ireland and once again asserting the primacy of UK regulation.
The same medicines, in the same packs, with the same labels, will be available in every pharmacy and hospital in the United Kingdom.
And crucially, dual regulation means that Northern Ireland’s world-leading healthcare industry…
…which brings much-needed jobs and investment…
…can still trade with both the UK and EU markets.
This is a landmark deal for patients in Northern Ireland.
It is a permanent solution that brings peace of mind.
And, Mr Speaker, the Protocol banned quintessentially British products going to Northern Ireland.
When people wanted to import oak trees to mark Her Late Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, the Protocol stood in their way.
It suspended the historic trade in seed potatoes between Scotland and Northern Ireland.
And if implemented, it would create massive costs and bureaucracy for people travelling around the UK with their pets.
Disrupting family life – and our family of nations.
That’s why today’s agreement will lift the ban on shrubs, plants, and trees going to Northern Ireland.
Lifts the ban on the movement of seed potatoes – particularly important for Scottish businesses.
And we will deliver this by expanding the Plant Passport scheme that already exists in Great Britain, and apply it everywhere in the UK.
And when it comes to pets, we have made sure that people from Northern Ireland will have completely free access to travel to Great Britain.
And if you’re a pet owner travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland…
…just make sure your pet is microchipped…
…and then all you’ll need to do is simply tick a box when booking your travel.
So whether it’s:
Lower VAT rates.
Lower beer duty.
Jubilee oaks in garden centres.
Seamless travel with pets.
Seamless trade in seed potatoes.
Or the seamless supply of cutting-edge medicines.
All of this is now available for everyone, everywhere in the United Kingdom.
And, Mr Speaker,
The Windsor Framework goes further still:
Safeguarding sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland and eliminating the democratic deficit.
Fundamentally, the Protocol meant the EU could impose new laws on the people of Northern Ireland – without them having a say.
I know some Members of this House, whose voices I deeply respect, say that EU laws should have no role whatsoever in Northern Ireland.
I understand that view. I am sympathetic to it.
But, for as long as the people of Northern Ireland continue to support their businesses having privileged access to the EU…
…and if we want to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, as we all do…
…then there will be some role for EU law.
So, the question is: What is the absolute minimum amount necessary to avoid a hard border?
Today’s agreement scraps 1700 pages of EU law.
The amount of EU law that applies in Northern Ireland is less than 3%.
And the people of Northern Ireland retain the right to reject that 3%, through next years’ consent vote.
However, that consent vote is about the whole Protocol, so it cannot by its nature provide oversight of individual new laws.
And it does not address the number one challenge to sovereignty made by the Protocol:
The ability of the EU to impose new or amended goods laws on Northern Ireland, without them having a say.
To address that, today’s agreement introduces a new Stormont Brake.
The Stormont Brake does more than just give Northern Ireland a say over new EU laws.
It means they can block them.
How will this work?
The democratically elected Assembly can oppose new EU goods rules that would have significant and lasting effects on their everyday lives.
They will do so on the same basis as the ‘petition of concern’ mechanism in the Good Friday Agreement…
…needing the support of 30 members from at least two parties.
If that happens, the UK government will have a veto.
And we will work with the Northern Ireland Assembly, and all parties, to codify how the UK government will use that veto.
Let me tell the House the full significance of this breakthrough.
The Stormont Brake gives the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement a powerful new safeguard.
It means the UK can veto new EU laws if they are not supported by both communities in Northern Ireland.
And yes, it is true that until now the EU had refused to consider Treaty change.
We were told it was impossible. That EU negotiators would never consider it.
But the Stormont Brake has been introduced by fundamentally rewriting the Treaty.
Specifically, the provisions relating to dynamic alignment.
That is a permanent change.
It ends the automatic ratchet of EU law.
And if the veto is used, the European courts can never overturn our decision.
And the EU have also explicitly accepted an important principle in the Political Declaration.
It is there, in black and white, that the Treaty is subject to the Vienna Convention.
This means that unequivocally, the legal basis for the Windsor Framework is in international law.
I’d like to thank My RHF the Member for Stone, for his support in negotiating this point.
And it puts beyond all doubt that we have now taken back control.
From the very start, we have listened closely and carefully to views on all sides of this debate.
I am grateful to many Members of the House, the communities of Northern Ireland…
…and the voices of business and civil society, for putting forward their suggestions.
I want to particularly thank the Northern Ireland business groups I have spoken to.
I hope in today’s agreement they recognise that we have addressed their concerns.
We are delivering stability, certainty, simplicity, affordability, and clarity…
…as well as strengthened representation for the businesses of Northern Ireland.
I also want to speak directly to the Unionist community.
I understand and have listened to your frustrations and concerns.
And I would not be standing here today if I did not believe today’s agreement marks a turning point for the people of Northern Ireland.
It is clearly in the interests of the people, and those of us who are passionate about the cause of Unionism, for power sharing to return.
Of course, parties will want to consider the agreement in detail, a process that will need time and care.
And there are, of course, many voices and perspectives within Northern Ireland and it is the job of the Government to respect them all.
But I have kept the concerns raised by the elected representatives of unionism at the forefront of my mind…
…because it is their concerns with the Protocol that have been so pronounced.
And I pay tribute to the RHM for Lagan Valley for saying that these are not bars meant to cause difficulties for the Government…
…but simply to hold us to commitments made in the past which have, until today, not been met.
What I can say is this:
Our goal has been to ensure the economic rights of the people of Northern Ireland under the Act of Union and Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement…
… placing them on an equal footing with the rest of the UK with respect to tax, trade, and the availability of goods.
And we have worked to end the prospect of trade diversion.
Removed any sense of a border for UK internal trade.
Removed routine customs or checks for goods destined for NI.
Removed thousands of pages of existing EU law.
And introduced a UK veto on dynamic alignment through the Stormont Brake.
We have created a form of dual regulation where it works and is needed the most, in sectors like medicines and food retail.
We have delivered unfettered access to the whole UK market for Northern Ireland’s businesses.
And we will take further steps to avoid regulatory divergence in future.
If Northern Ireland’s authorities ask the Office of the Internal Market to investigate the impact of future rule changes, we will respond in full.
And we’ve secured a clear EU commitment and process to manage future changes with a Special Goods Body.
All of this means Northern Ireland’s businesses have continued access to the EU market, as they requested.
It means we have protected the letter and spirit of Northern Ireland’s constitutional guarantee in the Belfast Agreement, with the Stormont Brake creating an effective cross-community safeguard.
There are, Mr Speaker, two distinct economies on the island of Ireland – and that will remain the case.
Today’s agreement puts beyond all doubt that Northern Ireland’s place in the internal market and United Kingdom is fully restored.
I want to conclude by directly addressing the question of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.
As I and my predecessors always said, the Bill was only ever meant to be a last resort…
…meant for a world where we could not get negotiations going.
As the government said at the time of introduction, our: “clear preference remains a negotiated solution”.
Now that we’ve persuaded the EU to fundamentally rewrite the Treaty text of the Protocol, we have a new and better option.
It gives us the benefits of the Bill – and more, achieving what people said could not be done and what the Bill does not offer:
It permanently removes any sense of a border in the Irish Sea.
It gives us control over dynamic alignment through the Stormont Brake – beyond what the Bill delivered.
And the Bill did not change a thing in international law, keeping the jurisdiction of the ECJ…
…and leaving us open to months, maybe years of uncertainty, disruption, and legal challenge.
Today’s agreement makes binding legal changes to the Treaty itself and is explicitly based in international law.
And unlike the Bill, it is an agreement that provides certainty, stability, and crucially…
…can start delivering benefits immediately for the people and businesses of Northern Ireland.
Of course, the House would expect to be informed of the Government’s updated legal position…
…on whether there is a lawful basis to proceed the Bill – so, I am publishing it today.
It says that because we have achieved a new negotiated agreement…
…which restores the balance of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement…
…the original and sound legal justification for the Bill, has now fallen away.
In other words, neither do we need the Bill – and nor do we have a credible basis to pursue it.
As such, we will no longer proceed with the Bill.
And the EU will no longer proceed with their legal proceedings against us.
Instead, we will pursue the certainty of a new way forward with the Windsor Framework.
And let me just remind the House of the full breadth and significance of what we have achieved today.
We’ve achieved free flowing trade with:
A Green Lane for goods.
No burdensome customs bureaucracy.
No routine checks on trade.
No paperwork whatsoever for Northern Irish goods moving into Great Britain.
And no border in the Irish sea.
We’ve protected Northern Ireland’s place in the Union, with:
State aid reach back – fixed.
The same tax rules - applying everywhere.
Vet certificates for food lorries – gone.
The ban on British sausages – gone.
Parcel paperwork – gone.
Pet paperwork - gone.
Garden centres now selling the same trees…
Supermarkets selling the same food…
And pharmacies selling the same medicines.
And we’ve safeguarded sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland, with:
The democratic deficit closed.
The Vienna Convention confirmed.
Thousands of pages of EU law scrapped.
And with the Stormont Brake, we have safeguarded democracy and sovereignty to the people of Northern Ireland.
So that is the choice before us, Mr Speaker.
Let us seize the opportunity of this moment…
The certainty of an agreement that fixes the problems we face…
Commands broad support and consensus…
And offers us, at last, the freedom to move forward, together.
That is what the people of Northern Ireland deserve.
That is what the Windsor Framework delivers.
As a Conservative, a Brexiteer, and a Unionist…
I believe with my head and my heart that it is the right way forward.
Right for Northern Ireland…
Right for our United Kingdom…
And I commend it to the House.