ADDS NEW REMARKS BY BRITISH PREMIER SUNAK
By Aysu Bicer
BERKSHIRE, England (AA) - The UK and European Union on Monday struck a new deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol, replacing it with what is called the Windsor framework after persistent disputes over post-Brexit trade arrangements, British and EU officials announced.
"I'm pleased to report that we have now made a decisive breakthrough," British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told a press conference in Berkshire, England, alongside Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission.
"We have changed the original protocol, and are today announcing the new Windsor framework ... 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."
He said under the new agreement EU law will continue to have a role in Northern Ireland, explaining: "That is a consequence of it staying in the single market."
"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," he said.
- ‘Stormont brake’ on new EU rules
Sunak also said the deal includes a “Stormont brake” enabling the Northern Ireland Assembly – known as Stormont – to halt new EU single market rules from applying in the region.
"Many have called for Stormont to have a say over these law, but the Stormont brake goes further and means that Stormont can in fact stop them from applying in Northern Ireland," he said.
"This will establish a clear process for which the democratically elected assembly can pull an emergency brake for changes to EU goods rules that would have significant and lasting effect on everyday lives. If the brake is pulled, the UK government will have a veto."
Von der Leyen hailed the consequence of the negotiations as "extraordinary," thanking the teams involved.
"For the issues around the protocol on Northern Ireland, we knew it was not going to be easy. We knew we needed to listen to each other's concerns very carefully ... (We) were both genuinely committed to find a practical solution for people and for all communities in Northern Ireland."
She added: “Today, we can take pride in the fact that we have delivered on that commitment.”
- Windsor Framework and green lane
The new deal reached by Sunak and von der Leyen effectively replaces the old Northern Ireland Protocol.
The new legal framework includes a “Stormont Brake” that enables the UK to veto new EU goods laws if they are not backed by both communities in Northern Ireland.
According to the British government, a new green lane (the UK internal market scheme) means traders moving goods destined for Northern Ireland will be freed of unnecessary red tape.
"All requirements have been scrapped for trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain on a permanent basis, including the requirement for export declarations," the government said in a statement.
The green lane will also be expanded to include food retailers such as supermarkets and hospitality businesses.
Chilled meats like sausages will be able to move freely into Northern Ireland like other retail food products.
Medicines approved for use by the UK's medicines regulator will be automatically available in every pharmacy and hospital in Northern Ireland, without the need for barcode scanning requirements, unlike the old protocol.
- 'We have now taken back control'
In a statement at the House of Commons, Sunak later said that today's Windsor framework puts beyond all doubt that the UK has "now taken back control."
"I would not be standing here today if I did not believe today's agreement marks a turning point for the people of Northern Ireland," he said.
The premier added that Monday’s agreement also puts beyond all doubt that Northern Ireland's place in the internal market and UK is "fully restored.”
"To preserve the balance of the (1998) Belfast Good Friday Agreement, we also need to protect Northern Ireland's place in our union. The Windsor framework is about making sure that Northern Ireland gets the full benefit of being part of the United Kingdom in every respect."
Saying today's deal scraps 1,700 pages of EU law, he stressed that the amount of EU law that applies in Northern Ireland is now less than 3%.
"Unequivocally the legal basis for the Windsor framework is in international law," Sunak underlined.
"As a Conservative, a Brexiteer, and a unionist, I believe passionately with my head and my heart that this is the right way forward. Right for Northern Ireland, right for our United Kingdom."
- Northern Ireland Protocol and Brexit
Up to now, the Northern Ireland Protocol has necessitated border checks on any animal and plant-based products, including frozen meat and processed meat products, before their transport to Northern Ireland, which is aligned with EU rules and regulations.
The protocol created a de facto trade border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The UK left the bloc on Jan. 31, 2020, as a result of the 2016 Brexit referendum that ended the country’s 40-year-plus membership in the European club.
The agreement signed by the sides included the protocol, which practically avoided a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The protocol has been a major thorn of contention between the sides.
*Burak Bir contributed to this report in London.