Northern Ireland reset?

The UK government has formally signed the Windsor Framework with the European Union after the deal aimed at resolving the bitter dispute over the Brexit Northern Ireland protocol won Parliamentary approval on March 22.

But 22 Conservative MPs voted against it, 48 abstained or were excused from the vote, and perhaps most significantly Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party rejected it, leaving the Northern Ireland assembly at Stormont in limbo.
The vote in Parliament was 515 to 29, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak winning enough of his own party’s votes to avoid relying on Opposition Labour and SNP support.

The vote came on the same day as former prime minister Boris Johnson tried to defend himself at the House of Commons privileges committee from charges of misleading Parliament over parties during the covid pandemic, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak released his tax returns for the last 3 years as he had promised in July 2022. Opposition Leader Keir Starmer released his last two years of tax returns the following day.

Announced on February 27, Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen hailed the “Windsor Framework” as a “new chapter” after 6 years of scrappy relations; newspapers in both the UK and the EU headlined a “Brexit breakthrough”; and no hardline Brexiteers openly or immediately opposed the deal.

The DUP had said it would examine the detail of the agreement before stating its opposition on March 20. The conservative Protestant party has fiercely fought Boris Johnson’s Brexit protocol which effectively imposed a trade border down the Irish Sea and closed the Northern Irish parliament at Stormont by refusing to participate in power sharing until the issue was resolved.

The Windsor Framework replaces the current Northern Ireland protocol to:

  • simplify trade across the Irish Sea by creating two different trade “lanes” – one with significantly reduced checks between Britain and Northern Ireland and the other retaining checks on goods involving the Irish Republic
  • scrap protocol bans on certain food and plant products
  • ease rules on pets, medicines, and parcels
  • reinstate UK tax revenue by replacing EU value-added tax (VAT) rules in Northern Ireland with UK VAT and excise rules on alcohol and immovable goods

Perhaps most importantly, controversially, and politically, the new agreement reduces the amount of EU law that applies in Northern Ireland, provides a mechanism for Northern Irish politicians to dispute new EU rules, and potentially reduces the scope of jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice, a massive ideological issue for the DUP and hardline Brexiteers.

UK and EU formally adopt Windsor Framework
UK Parliament votes for deal
Boris Johnson’s rebel alliance fails to stop deal
DUP announces opposition to deal
Poll shows Northern Ireland voters support deal
DUP secretly warned the government against the deal
Beyond the Framework – UK in a Changing Europe
Boris Johnson defends self
Rishi Sunak reveals tax returns
Keir Starmer reveals tax returns
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hails new deal – BBC
Rishi Sunak makes deal – Reuters
The Windsor Framework
The deal highlights
The deal details
UK newspaper reaction
European newspapers
The Sunak sell – FT
The Sunak sell – The Telegraph
What now for Boris Johnson? – The Guardian
The end of Boris Johnson? – iNews