Green and red lanes as the encounter point between the UK and the EU

Lucia Prieto Álvarex asks if the Windsor framework is just another agreement after Brexit to try and keep every party content

The Windsor framework, just another agreement after Brexit to try and keep every party content? The Windsor framework is the final attempt, and solution, to solve the trading problems that arose after Brexit and after the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, ratified in 2020, that created a “border” between Northern Ireland and the UK with the imposition of customs checks at ports.

The special status of the border between Ireland and the UK in Northern Ireland, reflected in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, was protected with both countries being members of the EU´s Single Market and Customs Union and their Common Travel Area. When Brexit materialised, the UK left the EU. In the years after the referendum results, negotiations between the UK and the EU were turbulent, especially during the premiership of Boris Johnson, during which conversations between the parties ceased. Rishi Sunak's ascension to the premiership allowed room for this agreement to come to light. 

This framework comes after seven years of back-and-forth meetings. This shows the complexities of the political and social situation in Northern Ireland and the UK and the reluctance to lose benefits that the EU provided to the UK in forming the two entities’ new relationship.  Announced on the 27th of February of this year and signed in the Windsor Fairmont, Windsor Park, the deal recognises both positions, looking for a place beneficial to every party involved; Northern Ireland, the UK and the EU.

Once the context is stated, we can understand his project's importance. On its basis, the Windsor framework creates different paths, in which it has separated the types of goods being exchanged and, on this basis, processing them separately.

For those goods whose destination is Northern Ireland, only a little paperwork is required; the requirement is for the companies to be part of the UK Trusted Trader scheme or to become a member of the new internal market scheme. For those whose destination is the Irish Republic (EU), goods will be subject to checks to make sure they comply with EU regulations. Those two routes are given the name green and red lanes, respectively. 

One of the main aims of the framework is to reduce checks at ports and airports, as well as cumbersome paperwork. With the reality of Brexit, the number of documents required to transport goods from one side of the border to the other increased significantly.  The agreement enters to regulate each type of good in exceptional detail, ensuring nothing is left out. 

The framework also gives a solution for VAT and tax, as EU VAT and tax rules were applied in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland will be exempt from specific VAT provisions. The UK would be able to use a reduced rate, and for example, the EU’s new VAT scheme for small enterprises will not apply in Northern Ireland. A specialised committee will review how new EU VAT laws are implemented in Northern Ireland. 

On manufactured goods, the UK held the position that only manufactured goods destined for the EU would need checks and paperwork. Still, the framework finally states that all manufactured goods sold in Northern Ireland must comply with EU regulations, as they have been doing until now, but benefiting from reduced customs processes. 

Other themes that the framework deals with are pets, medicines and subsidies, with a particular focus being on the new role that Northern Irish institutions have in this system. On this last matter, the so-called Stormont Brake mentioned before is the way used to describe the right given to the Northern Ireland assembly to object to those automatic changes that were applied under the protocol. It allows the region to have their say and oppose those modifications. This system only comes into force when 30 MLAs come together from at least two political parties to use it, and only under exceptional grounds and providing thoughtful reasoning; then, the new EU legislation would be blocked from being applied in Northern Ireland. This scheme takes into account the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. It also regulates agrifoods, stating that all the agri-food goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland being consumed there will only require simplified paperwork. Those products will need to comply with EU rules only on the protection of public health and consumers. 

In the words of Bill Clinton (former president of the US and major player in the Good Friday Agreement), “The Windsor framework, I think, is about as good as anybody could get.” Benefits for Great Britain would probably encompass the recognition of Northern Ireland’s sovereignty, to re-enhance the country's position with the EU and globally, giving a vision of a country with consolidated trading schemes, which would benefit them for new trading contracts.

For Northern Ireland, this framework is the opportunity to return to state institutions regularly, ease tensions, and maintain the Good Friday Agreement. On the other hand, not all could be good news, and even though the green lane removes any kind of border between the UK and Northern Ireland, not all companies would get the “UK Trusted Trader” designation required to form part of it. Companies such as material and components providers will be excluded from it, which constitutes a significant amount of the imports of Northern Ireland.

Hence, it is good news for Ireland as it will help calm the waters, maintaining southern interests in Northern Ireland. The deal protects its position in the EU and the country's interests by not imposing unnecessary paperwork and checks, after having done so for all the years that both countries were members of the EU. The Windsor Framework respects the Good Friday Agreement and, with that, the opportunity it gives to the citizens in Northern Ireland to ask for a referendum on the union of Ireland. 

It is soon to be understood how the community in Northern Ireland can perceive this agreement, as we have not been able to see how it affects the economy, policy, and international frame. But as far as we can tell, it implies a rapprochement of the positions of the UK and the EU, an understanding of the longings of Northern Ireland and Ireland. We will have to wait until it has been working for a few months or years to understand how this will materialise.