The Memo: UK and EU come to fresh Northern Ireland agreement

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UK and EU come to fresh Northern Ireland agreement

Cait Evans – 06 March 2023

The UK and the EU have come to yet another agreement over Northern Ireland in a deal known as the ‘Windsor Agreement’, with the aim to reduce red tape at the border and relax tensions between unionists and nationalists over the controversial Northern Ireland protocol. The new agreement throws the original protocol out the window and features things like green and red lanes for goods to ease paperwork at the border, and, most significantly, any new or amending EU rule relating to the internal market will be subject to what is known as the ‘Stormont Brake’.

The Stormont Brake is modelled off an existing mechanism under the Good Friday Agreement known as a ‘petition of concern’, which is a veto power where 30 MLAs can insist that any vote in Stormont must have strong support from both unionist and nationalist parties. Under the Stormont brake, this will remain largely the same, but it doesn’t require cross party support, so, in principle, it gives unionists a veto over any new or amending EU single market regulation. If a petition is raised, the UK government would be able to intervene and effectively veto EU internal market rules for a period of 4 weeks, then only if the UK and EU jointly agree, would the rule be greenlighted. Moreover, any dispute arising under such rules would be subject to international arbitration, instead of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Why is this significant? Well, unionists have long disliked the previous NI protocol, particularly because the ECJ still had remit over disputes arising over goods crossing the border. So, in principle, this is a significant concession, especially because it grants Westminster the opportunity to veto internal market legislation. But the head of the EU commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, has reiterated that the ECJ will have the final say in EU law and single market decisions, and preexisting legislation will still fall under the remit of the ECJ. So, Stormont and Westminster are not free of the EU by any means.

There is also the issue of how this will be implemented in practice. The DUP has been boycotting parliament in protest of the NI protocol for over a year now, and the EU will be able to take ‘appropriate remediation efforts’ if NI significantly departs from single market rules. In short, the possibility of a long stalemate between London and Brussels over the issue looms large.

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