The agreement unveiled by EU and the UK to govern trade between Britain and the island of Ireland is unlikely to come into force for several months, officials have warned.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the Windsor Framework on Monday (27 February) following two years of often bitter negotiations as an opportunity to reset EU-UK relations.
At its heart are proposals for ‘green’ and ‘red’ lanes that would end customs checks for goods staying in Northern Ireland and impose bureaucratic requirements on those travelling on to the Republic of Ireland, and a mechanism, known as the ‘Stormont brake’ to give Northern Irish lawmakers a say in whether to accept future EU single market laws.
Officials from London and Brussels have talked up the political importance of the deal for future EU-UK cooperation on defence and security, with one remarking that it will “move us away from a situation where we are chucking stones at each other.”
However, although UK officials have indicated that there is no prospect of further negotiations with the EU on the Windsor Framework, there will not be a rush to pass it into law.
Officials have pointed to a meeting of the Joint EU-UK Committee in March as the next formal step.
Breaking the impasse on the protocol should lead to UK universities and researchers getting access to the Horizon Europe programme and implementing a new rulebook on financial services, but officials say that they do not expect to “turn on these programmes tomorrow.”
Establishing the UK’s association member status, which von der Leyen said would start ‘immediately’, is “quite a big challenge”, say UK officials pointing to the fact that their researchers have been shut out from the programme for two years and “have been quite disadvantaged.”
”it’s hard to wave a magic wand and just fix all of that,” said a UK official.
Sunak is expected to spend the coming weeks persuading hard Brexiteers in his Conservative party and, more importantly, the Democratic Unionist Party to back the agreement. Following meetings with leaders in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, Sunak said he would not press the DUP for “an instant answer.”
“We need to hear from the business, we need to know if it works for them. People need to show the courage of their convictions, look at the deal, come up with your analysis and make your pitch,” Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Doug Beattie told reporters.
However, several senior members of the DUP, including Ian Paisley and Sammy Wilson, have criticised the deal, with Wilson insisting that no EU law should apply in Northern Ireland.
Although Sunak is unlikely to need DUP votes to pass the Windsor Framework, their support is crucial to resuming a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland.
Sunak also addressed the 1922 committee of Conservative backbench lawmakers to sell his deal, following which Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker told reporters the deal was “as good as we’re going to get”,
On the EU side, meanwhile, the framework includes a series of changes to EU law which are likely to take several months to be formally adopted by EU lawmakers.
A snap opinion poll by Savanta published on Tuesday suggested that only 9% oppose the idea of red and green lanes for products and goods between Northern Ireland and Britain, while 50% support the proposal.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]