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May 22, 2023

Wheelers Words – Windsor Framework for Northern Ireland

On 27 February 2023 Rishi Sunak and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced a new agreement called the Windsor Framework which adapted the Northern Ireland protocol that dictated the way goods travelling between Great Britain (GB) and Northern Ireland (NI) were treated. It originally came into effect on 1 January 2021 post Brexit. The original Northern Ireland protocol’s purpose was to prevent a hard border in Ireland meaning that NI could trade within the EU’s single market and still trade freely with the UK at the same time.

The purpose of the Windsor Framework is to solve certain trade frictions between NI and the rest of the UK. The new agreement is designed to address disagreements from the previous protocol by amending it rather than being a replacement. It has now been signed and formally adopted as of 24 March 2023 however the various amendments are being implemented over the next few years.

Set out below are the main amendments included in the Windsor Framework:

Customs paperwork and tariffs:

Original Northern Ireland protocol

The original protocol required customs declaration on all goods from GB to NI regardless of their final destination whether that be NI or EU. Goods that were entering NI from GB could be moved tariff free. However, if there were any goods deemed ‘at risk’ of going into the EU when entering NI then tariffs were having to be paid. Either the UK government would pay on the trader’s behalf or, if paid for directly by the trader, the UK government would reimburse them. This resulted in cash flow and admin problems.

Windsor Framework amendments

The main change introduced to the protocol is the new system of checks on goods entering NI from GB. Goods coming from GB staying in NI will pass through a ‘green lane’. Green lane goods will have fewer checks and control, this includes no customs checks. Conversely, ‘red lane’ goods (goods that are travelling onwards to Republic of Ireland (ROI) and rest of EU) will continue to have full checks and controls to protect the EU’s single market.

Animal products:

Original Northern Ireland protocol

A widely reported issue with the original protocol was agri-foods (food produced as a result of agriculture). There was a requirement for agri-foods entering NI to comply with certain EU laws as well as a requirement for specialist paperwork to be complete and physical inspections on a large proportion of items (up to 100% of some fruits and vegetables). There were even some plant and animal products that could not be imported from GB to NI. However, some short-term exceptions were applied to supermarkets, such as sausages and chilled meats, to help ease supplier issues.

Windsor Framework amendments

Under the revised protocol, food retailers such as supermarkets, wholesalers, hospitality and caterers will be able to use the green lanes for foods entering NI from GB. Other pre-packaged agri-foods coming into NI from GB for final consumption in NI will have simplified paperwork and a vast reduction in physical inspections to 5% by 2025. Previously prohibited goods (including the sausages and chilled meats) will be permitted entry to NI if sold in NI. There will be a reduction in EU laws food needs to comply with and some EU laws will be replaced with UK standards instead.

VAT & excise duty:

Original Northern Ireland protocol

EU VAT and excise rules were still being applied to NI. One issue with this was how NI second-hand car dealers were unable to use the VAT margin scheme on purchases from GB. The VAT margin scheme works by only declaring VAT on the profit (or loss) made on a vehicle. The effect this had on businesses in NI meant an increase in costs for those who sourced their vehicles from GB. There were also other UK wide VAT reforms that the UK government could not introduce in NI.

Windsor Framework amendments

The revision of the protocol means NI is now exempt from certain EU VAT provisions and a limit on the number of reduced or zero rates of VAT that can be applied to certain goods in NI will be removed. This means a more consistent VAT policy can be put in place across the UK. Examples of this includes the zero rating of energy saving materials like heat pumps and solar panel which was already in place across GB. The UK government will also be able to restructure alcohol duties and apply lower rates on alcohol drinks served in a hospitality venue compared to those sold in supermarkets (still being subject to EU minimum duty rates).


Original Northern Ireland protocol

If not for a grace period, every single consumer parcel sent from GB to NI would have required a full customs declaration. This meant individuals sending parcels to NI would have had to complete a customs declaration or individuals in NI would only have been able to buy from retailers that were willing to complete the customs declarations.

Windsor Framework amendments

Individuals sending parcels from GB to other individuals in NI will not be required to fill in customs paperwork in line with the rest of the UK. Parcels being received by NI consumers from GB businesses via the post will not require a customs declaration either. Parcels sent between businesses that will stay in the UK will travel through the aforementioned ‘green lanes’ without the need for any international custom procedures in the same way as freight will travelling through the green lane.

These new arrangements will take effect in September 2024 giving businesses enough time to prepare for the change.


Those who have taken their pets abroad already know the pain and expense of having to get all the right certificates, health checks and vaccines before entering the EU. Under the revised protocol GB pet owners taking their pets to NI will require a travel document for the lifetime of the pet to confirm it is microchipped and will not go into the EU. NI pet owners will still require the same certificates to take their pet into ROI.

Stormont Brake:

In the original Northern Ireland protocol the European Court of Justice oversaw how the protocol was applied. The UK government was unhappy with this as it did not want EU regulations to supersede UK laws. Therefore, the Stormont Brake mechanism was agreed.  This provides the NI assembly the power to object to changes to EU rules that apply in NI, however, it is only intended to be used in the most exceptional circumstances as a last resort.

These are the main amendments in the Windsor Framework that will have the most effect on both businesses and individuals. However, if you would like to read into the Windsor Framework further or are looking for some bed time reading; HMRC’s 13,000 word, 29 page “summary” can be found via the following link:

And for those who were wondering, it is called the Windsor Framework because Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen (President of the European Commission) met at the Fairmont Hotel in Windsor Park.

Article written by Jacob Halls