A new chapter has opened in relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union. After years of tension and antagonism London and Brussels have reached agreement on the Irish Protocol. Thus unraveling the last unresolved Brexit knot about Northern Ireland.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made the announcement at a joint press conference today in Windsor. “We are allies, trading partners and friends,” Sunak said. Together we have found a way to end uncertainty.
Von der Leyen also said she was “proud of this historic agreement, a long-term solution that protects our markets and our respective interests, but above all protects the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland.”
The understanding, referred to as the “Windsor Framework Agreement,” substantially modifies the text of the Protocol signed in 2020. The aim is to resolve some of the problems that until now seemed insurmountable. While maintaining the main objective of not returning to an internal border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with the risk of new political and religious tensions.
The three key points of the Windsor Framework
The key points of the Windsor Agreement are three:
1. First, there will be no customs controls, obstacles and bureaucratic hiccups for goods, including food and plants, coming from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Which will travel in a special “green lane.” Goods bound for the Republic of Ireland and thus the EU will instead travel in a “red lane,” to ensure the integrity of the EU single market.
2. The second point focuses on the accessibility of products of all kinds and also medicines. Medicines, both existing and future, if approved by the British regulator will be able to be sold in Northern Ireland.
This is the solution offered to the origin flaw in the Protocol, which by keeping Northern Ireland in the single market and the EU customs union imposed customs controls on products arriving from Britain. Thus, making trade difficult and effectively imposing a border between Northern Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales.
3. The third point is the defence of Northern Ireland’s sovereignty. Sunak explained that the Stormont Parliament will be rightfully able to stop EU rules and the British government will be able to act with veto power.
This is an “emergency brake” that is a “powerful safeguard” that should allay the DUP’s fears of finding itself subject to EU rules without a say. The European Court of Justice remains the supreme arbiter of EU law, von der Leyen stressed.
The further agreements on Northern Ireland
The EU president also confirmed that the agreement also unlocks collaboration on scientific research. Thus allowing Britain’s participation in the Horizon program from which it had been excluded precisely because of the Protocol dispute.
“This is good news for all British scientists and researchers,” von der Leyen said, because they will again be able to access generous EU funds. The coming days and weeks will be crucial.
Sunak assured that the agreement will have to be approved by the Westminster Parliament. But also said he wanted to give all parties time to examine it in every detail and “digest the contents” before voting on it.
Both London and Brussels would like to formalize the agreement before April, when it marks the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreements that had restored peace to Northern Ireland after years of sectarian violence. U.S. President Joe Biden, who has Irish ancestry, may travel to Belfast to celebrate the anniversary.
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