Sunak and von der Leyen Announce 'Windsor Framework' on Northern Ireland Trade

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced a “decisive breakthrough” on negotiations regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol in Windsor on Monday, February 27.

The new agreement, called the Windsor Framework, seeks to ease the trade issues created by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which stated that customs checks must be conducted on goods moving between Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern Ireland.

Paying tribute to von der Leyen’s vision, Sunak said the new framework will deliver smooth trade within the UK.

The UK PM announced a new Green and Red lane system for customs, where “burdensome customs bureaucracy will be scrapped” for products traveling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The movement of trees, seeds, and medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will also be made easier by the Windsor Framework, Sunak said.

“We have removed any sense of a border in the Irish Sea,” the PM concluded.

Sunak also introduced the Stormont Brake, a mechanism allowing the Northern Irish government to have a say in the implementation of laws that impact EU goods in Northern Ireland.

Von der Leyen in turn acknowledged the difficult path to the Windsor Framework, saying: “I also remember the two of us were honest with each other about the difficulties in our bilateral relationship and it was vital to put that on the right footing too.”

The EU Commission President said she and Sunak had “agreed on strong safeguards that will protect the integrity of EU’s single market.”

Political parties in Northern Ireland will now have time to consider the Windsor Framework.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson earlier told RTE: “We’ll take our time to consider the detail and measure a deal against our seven tests.”

The tests include considerations over whether Northern Irish MPs are given an appropriate say in laws pertaining to their nation.

Sunak told reporters at the press conference that MPs will be given a vote on the framework “at the appropriate time.” Credit: UK Prime Minister via Storyful

Video transcript

RISHI SUNAK: Good afternoon. All our thoughts are with Detective Chief Inspector, John Caldwell and his family after last week's abhorrent shooting in Omagh. A man of extraordinary courage, his first thought was to protect the children he had been coaching. President von der Leyen and I stand united with the people and leaders of all communities across Northern Ireland. Those trying to drag us back into the past will never succeed.

This afternoon, I welcomed President von der Leyen to Windsor to continue our discussions about the Northern Ireland Protocol. I'm pleased to report that we have now made a decisive breakthrough. Together, we have changed the original protocol and are today announcing the new Windsor framework. Today's agreement delivers smooth flowing trade within the whole United Kingdom, protects Northern Ireland's place in our Union and safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland.

Now these negotiations have not always been easy, but I'd like to pay an enormous personal tribute to Ursula for her vision in recognizing the possibility of a new way forward. And to my colleagues, the Foreign and Northern Ireland secretaries, for their steadfast leadership. The United Kingdom and European Union may have had our differences in the past, but we are allies, trading partners and friends, something that we've seen clearly in the past year as we joined with others to support Ukraine. This is the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship. For a quarter of a century, the Belfast Good Friday Agreement has endured because, at its heart is respect for the aspirations and identity of all communities.

Today's agreement is about preserving that delicate balance and charting a new way forward for the people of Northern Ireland. I am standing here today because I believe we have found ways to end the uncertainty and challenge for the people of Northern Ireland. We have taken three big steps forward.

First, today's agreement delivers the smooth flow of trade within the United Kingdom. Goods destined for Northern Ireland will travel through a new green lane, with a separate red lane for goods at risk of moving onto the EU. In the green lane, burdensome customs bureaucracy will be scrapped. That means food retailers like supermarkets, restaurants, and wholesalers will no longer need hundreds of certificates for every lorry. And we will end the situation where food made to UK rules could not be sent to and sold in Northern Ireland.

This means that if food is available on supermarket shelves in Great Britain, then it will be available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland. And unlike the protocol, today's agreement means people sending parcels to friends or family or doing their shopping online will have to complete no customs paperwork. This means we have removed any sense of a border in the Irish sea. Second, we have protected Northern Ireland's place in the Union. We've amended the legal text of the protocol to ensure we can make critical VAT and excise changes for the whole of the UK. For example on alcohol duty, meaning our reforms to cut the cost of a pint in the pub will now apply in Northern Ireland.

The same quintessentially British products like trees, plants, and seed potatoes will again be available in Northern Ireland's garden centers. Onerous travels on pet requirements have been removed. And today's agreement also delivers a landmark settlement on medicines. From now on drugs, approved for use by the UKs medicines regulator will be automatically available in every pharmacy and hospital in Northern Ireland. Third, today's agreement safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland. The only EU law that applies in Northern Ireland under the framework is the minimum necessary to avoid a hard border with Ireland and allow Northern Irish businesses to continue accessing the EU market.

But I know that many people in Northern Ireland are worried about being subject to changes in EU goods laws. To address that, today's agreement introduces a new Stormont break. Many had called for Stormont to have a say over these laws, but the Stormont break goes further and means that Stormont can in fact stop them from applying in Northern Ireland. This will establish a clear process through which the democratically elected assembly can pull an emergency brake for changes to EU goods rules that would have significant and lasting effects on everyday lives.

If the brake is pulled, the UK government will have a veto. This gives the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland a powerful new safeguard based on cross-community consent. I believe the Windsor framework marks a turning point for the people of Northern Ireland. It fixes the practical problems they face, it preserves the balance of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. Now of course, parties will want to consider the agreement in detail, a process that will need time and care.

Today's agreement is written in the language of laws and treaties, but really it's about much more than that. It's about stability in Northern Ireland. It's about real people and real businesses. It's about showing that our Union that has lasted for centuries can and will endure. And it's about breaking down the barriers between us, setting aside the arguments that for too long have divided us and remembering that fellow feeling that defines us, this family of nations, this United Kingdom. Thank you. Ursula.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN: Good afternoon, prime minister. It is an honor and a pleasure to be here in Windsor with you. And it is with a great sense of satisfaction that we stand here together. We are about to deliver on an important commitment we made to each other a few months ago.

I remember our first discussions when we saw eye to eye on how to support our Ukrainian friends. And I was encouraged by our trustful and strong cooperation on this crucial geostrategic issue. But I also remember how the two of us were honest with each other about the difficulties in our bilateral relationship. And it was vital to put that on the right footing too.

We committed to work hard together to do so. We knew that for us to be able to make the most of the potential of our partnership, solutions were needed. For the issues around the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, we knew it was not going to be easy. We knew we needed to listen to each other's concerns very carefully. Above all, we had to listen to the concerns of the people of Northern Ireland.

We knew we had to work hard with clear minds and determination. But we also both knew that we could do it because we were both generally committed to find a practical solution for people and for all communities in Northern Ireland. Today, we can take pride in the fact that we have delivered on that commitment because today, we have reached an agreement in principle on the Windsor framework. The Windsor framework lays down new arrangements on Ireland to Northern Ireland.

This new framework will allow us to begin a new chapter. It provides for long lasting solutions that both of us are confident will work for all people and businesses in Northern Ireland. Solutions that respond directly to the concerns they have raised. Prime minister, we worked hard across a wide range of areas. The new arrangements are delivering a comprehensive package so that we can address in a definitive way, the issues faced in everyday lives. I will only mention two examples that I find most telling. Indeed, the New Windsor framework will ensure that the same food will be available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the UK.

And Furthermore, the New Windsor framework will permanently enable all medicines, including novel ones, to be available in Northern Ireland at the same time, under the same conditions across the UK. For this to work, we have agreed on strong safeguards, like IT access, labels and enforcement procedures, that will protect the integrity of the European Union's single market. The New Windsor framework respects and protects our respective markets and our respective legitimate interests.

And most importantly, it protects the very hard earned peace gains of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement for the people of Northern Ireland and across the Island of Ireland. Violence has no place in our society. I condemn wholeheartedly the shooting of the PSNI officer in Northern Ireland last week. And my thoughts are with the officer and his family and friends.

This year will mark the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. An important milestone of the historic peace process. The New Windsor framework is here to benefit people in Northern Ireland and support all communities celebrating peace on the Island of Ireland. And this is why I believe we can now open a new chapter in our partnership. A stronger EU/UK relationship, standing as close partners, shoulder to shoulder now and in the future. Many thanks.

RISHI SUNAK: Thank you, Ursula. We have time for some questions from the media. Can I start with the BBC?

- Thank you. Chris Mason, BBC News. If the Democratic Unionist Party don't go back into government in Northern Ireland after all of this, does it ultimately amount to a failure? Question to both of you.

RISHI SUNAK: Well Chris, I think today marks a turning point for Northern Ireland. I've spent a lot of time listening to communities there, businesses there, the Unionist community as well, understanding their concerns and I believe that today's framework addresses them. It ensures that we can move goods freely around our UK internal market, it protects Northern Ireland's place in the Union and it safeguard sovereignty for Northern Ireland's people.

But I also recognize that parties and communities across Northern Ireland will want to take the time to consider the detail of what we're announcing today and we should give them the time and the space to do that And I fully respect that. But I believe that what we have achieved today is a real breakthrough. And it's now for the parties to consider that and decide themselves how to take it forward and build a better future for people in Northern Ireland.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN: I think it's historic what we have agreed today and what we have achieved. And indeed a lot will happen. The establishing of the green lane, for example, and the red lane for goods. The reducing of an amount of paperwork, reduced customs and checks on the ground, sharing customs data information in real time.

All these will drastically facilitate when implemented. It's a big step forward. And I think what is exceptional is that we managed to find an agreement for solutions that will protect our respective single markets. And this is a lot and therefore, I really want to thank for the excellent cooperation and I really want to thank our teams also for all the time they've invested, all the knowledge. The result is extraordinary.

And I'd echo what Ursula said about thanking our teams. And actually Chris, to just building on what Ursula said, often we focus on the politics of situations, Westminster and all the rest of it, but this is about the people of Northern Ireland, about the communities and about the businesses there and what's best for them. And I believe that the Windsor framework that we've agreed today really resolves the challenges that had been raised. It resolves all the practical issues on the ground. It puts people in charge of their destiny and that's why I represent such a major breakthrough.

And I hope everyone can recognize that and take the time to consider it. But this framework will start making a positive difference to people's lives in Northern Ireland almost immediately. And regardless of all the politics of this, I think that is something that hopefully, all of us can recognize and celebrate. Can we turn next to RTE?

- Hello, John [INAUDIBLE] from RTE here. The unionists say they want to be treated the same-- and it's to both leader-- they wanted to be treated the same as any other part of the UK. However, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with the EU. So there will have to be some differences for Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK. Do you believe the unionists will accept different treatment and can you point to how, for instance, the European Court of Justice will have jurisdiction in Northern Ireland?

RISHI SUNAK: Do you want to take that first, Ursula? I'll actually just echo what I just said, John, actually about, yes, of course politics matters and parties in Northern Ireland, Unionist communities will want to take the time to consider what we've announced today, digest the detail and we should give them the time and the space to do that. But if you focus on people, on families, on communities, on businesses, I think people will see that the framework we've agreed today delivers significant improvements in almost every aspect of their lives that have seen disruption and challenge from the protocol. And that is something that, I think, can be celebrated and recognized. And that benefit will start coming very quickly.

Now there are a range of things that I heard when I talked to communities in Northern Ireland. And because of the breadth and the comprehensive nature of this framework, and you heard some of it in my remarks earlier, I think we're addressing all those practical challenges and indeed safeguarding sovereignty as well. And I know that's something that's particularly important to communities in Northern Ireland.

With regard to the role of EU law, to recognize that with the consent of people in Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland has access to the single market. And I think we all collectively share an ambition to avoid, as you say, a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. And that's why there's a role for EU law in Northern Ireland, but that happens with consent. And as a result of the agreements that we've reached today, there is further Democratic accountability of that role of EU law with the new Stormont break, which provides a very powerful mechanism for the Stormont institution to use when it has concerns. And I think that is a really important part of correcting the Democratic deficit that existed and providing reassurance to everyone in Northern Ireland that they are in control of their own destiny.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN: Yes, indeed, the European Court of Justice is the sole and ultimate arbiter of EU law. That's natural because it's prescribed by the EU legal order. So the ECJ will have the final say on EU law and single market issues. But we have in this Windsor framework, worked hard on the rules that existed before, not only the ECJ on EU law, but also the arbitration panel on not EU laws. And this includes the new Stormont break, which is based on the petition of concern that comes from the Good Friday Agreement.

So we have built on this peace process the next step. We've kind of leveled up or improved the overall mechanism. I think important is, in our Windsor framework, that we are putting also in place several mechanisms that should avoid having to resort to the Stormont break, which is an emergency mechanism. So intense, extensive consultations with the UK and Northern Ireland stakeholders on new EU laws, but also consultations of the EU by the UK on UK-planned regulatory changes. This is important for us. And with view on Ireland, of course, there has always been the full commitment, and there is the full commitment of the European Union to safeguard the Belfast Good Friday Agreement in all its dimensions. No hard border on the Island of Ireland, and of course, that we fully protect the integrity of the EU single market.

RISHI SUNAK: Could I turn next to the Express?

- Thank you, prime minister. Sam Lister, Daily Express. This has been described by some as a test of your leadership. Are you planning to have a vote on this deal? And if so, how tough are you prepared to be on Boris Johnson and members of the ERG if they decide to oppose it? And I wonder if I could just ask President von der Leyen a question. Can you explain to us why Rishi Sunak's been able to negotiate these concessions when his three predecessors were unable to? Thank you.

RISHI SUNAK: So yes, parliament will have a vote at the appropriate time. And that vote will be respected. But as I said earlier, I think it's important that we give everyone the time and the space they need to consider the detail of the framework that we've announced today because it is comprehensive in nature and that will take time for people to digest. But ultimately, this isn't necessarily about me, it's not about politicians, it's about the people in Northern Ireland. It's about what's best for them. It's about those families, those businesses and what this framework what this agreement will do to improve their lives. And I believe that the changes that we have made, the breakthroughs that we have been able to put forward together, will make an enormous difference.

We can now say that goods will flow freely, smoothly across the UK internal market, that we've protected Northern Ireland's place and our Union, that we've safeguarded sovereignty for Northern Ireland's people. Those are all significant achievements. And that's what we should focus on. And I think all of us know about the stability that is required in Northern Ireland, the delicate balance of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and how important that is. Today's framework means that balance is restored and that's why I think this is a very significant step forward. It marks a turning point for the people of Northern Ireland today and I very much hope as a result of this, they can look forward to a better future.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN: I think it is very important to take note of the fact that the two of us, when we met for the very first time, we agreed that-- I mean, if you look at the huge challenges we are facing together, whether it is the atrocious Russian war in Ukraine, or the fight against climate change, we have so much in common. We are fighting for the same values. We are standing on the same side, shoulder by shoulder.

And we want the best solution for the people of Northern Ireland in the situation that we have right now. So there was a very constructive attitude from the very beginning to solve problems, to find solutions, practical solutions for everyday life of the people and businesses in Northern Ireland. That's what we've done. And we've jointly developed the solutions. It needed a lot of goodwill and knowledge. And we have jointly agreed on that now. So I'm very happy about the agreement that we found with Windsor framework.

RISHI SUNAK: Right. And lastly, have we got Le Soir?

- [INAUDIBLE] for the Belgian newspaper Le Soir. Would you say that the trust is back between the UK and the EU? And would you say that this deal will help the UK to participate again to Horizon, the research program?

RISHI SUNAK: Do you want to start, Ursula.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN: Yes. This Windsor framework is good news for scientists and researchers in the European Union and in the UK because of course, the moment we have finished this agreement, so it's an agreement in principle, at the moment it's implemented, I am happy to start immediately. Right now, the work on an Association agreement, which is the precondition to join Horizon Europe. So good news for all those who are working in research and science.

RISHI SUNAK: I think I'd also just add to that. There's a range of different areas that we can cooperate productively on. And the President and I started that work when we first met, but if you look at how we've responded to the situation in Ukraine, that's required very close coordination on things like sanctions policy, which the President has led and we worked very closely together on that.

Also energy security, more broadly, given the interconnected nature of our energy markets. Climate change is another area. And indeed, illegal migration. These are all the types of things that we can continue to make good progress on working together to the benefit of all of our communities that we represent. And I look forward to doing that with President von der Leyen, as well. Good. Thank you very much for your time.