Brexit Questions and Answers
- What stage is Brexit at? What has happened so far?
- When did the UK leave the EU?
- What was agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland?
- What was the transition period?
- What is the new relationship between the UK and the EU?
- How was the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement ratified?
- What is the EU single market?
- What is the EU customs union?
- What are Common Frameworks?
- What legislation is required to deal with Brexit?
- How are EU relations managed by the UK Government, is there a role for Northern Ireland?
- How did the UK vote on Brexit?
Brexit and Northern Ireland
- What does the Protocol mean for Northern Ireland?
- What is the democratic consent mechanism?
- Who is responsible for ensuring the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol is implemented?
- What is Article 16?
- What does the Protocol mean for trade?
- What does SPS mean?
- How does the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement affect Northern Ireland?
- How is travel affected?
- How does Brexit affect travel with pets?
- Can EU citizens continue to live and work in Northern Ireland?
- How does Brexit affect the Erasmus program, and international students in Northern Ireland?
- What does Brexit mean for supplies of medicines to Northern Ireland?
- What is the situation with food supplies coming into Northern Ireland?
- What about EU PEACE funding for Northern Ireland?
- What are the implications of Brexit for the UK’s wider trading arrangements? How does this affect Northern Ireland?
The EU and UK reached a Trade and Cooperation Agreement on 24 December 2020. The deal was initially provisionally applied and was subsequently ratified by the European Parliament in April 2021.
The deal followed four years of UK-EU negotiations, after the UK voted in a referendum on 23 June 2016 to leave the EU. Then Prime Minister Theresa May subsequently triggered Article 50, the legal mechanism for a member state of the EU to leave the bloc.
In October 2019 the Withdrawal Agreement (including the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol) and Political Declaration were agreed between the two blocs and the Withdrawal Agreement entered into force on 1 February 2020, the date the UK officially left the EU. The UK entered the transition period, whereby the UK applied EU law and was treated as a member of the EU, however did not participate in the EU institutions.
During this period the EU and UK negotiated the future relationship. They reached an agreement which covers trade, cooperation on economic, social and environmental and fisheries issues, social security, and governance. The transition period ended on 31 December 2020: at 11pm the UK left the EU single market and customs union and the new arrangements commenced. Special arrangements apply to Northern Ireland. Find out more about Brexit and Northern Ireland by following this link.
Since 1 January, talks between the EU and UK have been continued to take place on various issues including fisheries, data adequacy, and the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (see below).
The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. However, under the transition period, the UK remained in the EU single market and customs union. This arrangement ended on 31 December 2020. As of 1 January 2021, the UK has left the EU single market and customs union, and its relationship with the EU is governed by the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Under the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market for goods. The Protocol entered into force on 1 January 2021. Find out more about the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland
The Withdrawal Agreement covers citizens’ rights, a financial settlement, and governance and dispute resolution mechanisms for the Agreement.
The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and protect the Good Friday Agreement, while preserving the EU single market and protecting the all-island economy.
Under the Protocol, Northern Ireland continues to follow EU law relating to the single market for goods, and the EU Customs Code applies to all goods entering NI. This means that additional checks apply to goods and agri-food products entering NI from the rest of the UK, and EU customs formalities apply. Customs duties apply to certain goods entering Northern Ireland if they are considered ‘at risk’ of entering the EU single market More about this issue
The Protocol includes a consent mechanism: every four years the Northern Ireland Assembly shall vote on the continued application of Articles 5-10 of the Protocol i.e. on the continued application of EU single market rules which affect trading arrangements. If the vote gains cross-community support for the continuation of the provisions, the next vote would take place after eight years. If the Assembly votes to disapply these articles, the provisions would cease to apply after two years and alternative options would be considered. The first vote will take place before the end of 2024.
Regarding citizens’ rights, the Withdrawal Agreement allows EU citizens already living in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU, to continue living, working, and studying in their host country. UK citizens in the EU may have to apply for a new residence status in the EU. Likewise, EU citizens in the UK had to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021. The financial settlement ensured that financial commitments made by the UK and EU, when the UK was a member state, are honoured. The Withdrawal Agreement also made provisions for the transition period.
During the transition period the UK was treated as if it were a member of the EU, however it no longer participated in the EU institutions, such as the European Council meetings of EU leaders, and it did not have any representatives in the European Parliament. The UK remained in the EU single market and customs union and continued to apply EU law. In practical terms, little changed for businesses and citizens in the UK on the date which it left the EU (31 January 2020) and the transition period began. The transition period gave the UK more time to prepare for the new EU-UK relationship, however it was only clear at a very late stage what form this would take.
The transition period ended on 31 December 2020 and the UK began a new relationship with the EU.
The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement covers a wide range of areas, including the ‘level playing field’ for fair and open competition, governance of the arrangements, fisheries, trade in goods, services, law enforcement and judicial cooperation, energy, mobility, social security coordination, transport, and participation in EU-funded programmes. The Agreement does not cover foreign policy, external security and defence cooperation.
The UK is no longer a member of the single market and customs union: it no longer benefits from the EU’s ‘four freedoms’: free movement of people, capital, goods, and services. The UK no longer applies EU law (except in the case of Northern Ireland) and no longer makes financial contributions to the EU, except for its participation in funding programmes such as Horizon Europe.
An overview of the new relationship: More detail about how Northern Ireland is affected
- Trade in goods: UK-EU trade in goods is now subject to customs formalities, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks, and rules of origin procedures. The deal gives zero tariff and zero quota access for UK goods: this means customs duties won’t have to be paid on qualifying exports (i.e. goods manufactured in the UK, or subject to sufficient processing there).
- Freedom of movement: UK citizens can travel to the EU visa-free for 90 days in a 180-day period. Beyond this a visa may be required. UK citizens no longer benefit from freedom of movement.
- Trade in services: UK service providers no longer benefit from the EU ‘financial services passport’ i.e. automatic access to the single market. Professional qualifications will not be automatically recognised by EU Member States.
- Programmes: The UK has decided to no longer participate in Erasmus and other EU programmes. It will pay to access some programmes such as Horizon Europe, the EU’s innovation and research programme.
- Fisheries: a transition period of 5.5 years will see 25% of the value of EU catch in UK waters transferred to the UK fleet. Annual quotas will then be decided by the UK and EU: if the UK decides not to grant access to EU fishermen, the EU can retaliate and restrict access to the EU single market for fish exports.
- Security: the UK no longer participates in EU agencies such as Europol, Eurojust, or has access to databases such as the Schengen Information System (SIS II). The UK will continue to cooperate with these agencies and the EU and UK will make arrangements to continue strong cooperation, and facilitate fast exchange of criminal record information, subject to data protection requirements. The UK Parliament Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has published a report on cross-border co-operation on policing, security and criminal justice after Brexit.
On the UK side, the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill was published on 29 December 2020. This gave effect to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement in law. The UK Parliament voted to pass the deal by 521 to 73 votes: alongside the Conservatives, Labour voted for the deal, arguing that the only alternative was no-deal. All other opposition parties voted against the deal, including the SDLP, Alliance, and the DUP. The Bill received Royal Assent on 30 December 2020, at the end of just one day of debate. Given the deal was reached at such a late stage – one week before the end of the transition period with a ‘no-deal scenario’ looming – there was very little time for the Bill to be finalised and for Parliament to scrutinise the deal.
As per the Sewel Convention, the UK Government sought legislative consent from the devolved administrations for the Bill. Devolved legislatures use legislative consent motions to demonstrate consent for the UK Parliament to pass a law on a devolved matter.
The Scottish Parliament agreed not to consent to the Bill, endorsing a motion stating that it “would cause severe damage to Scotland’s environmental, economic and social interests”. The Senedd passed a motion noting that the “damaging deal does not reflect the aspirations of the Senedd” and regretted it was not in a position to determine legislative consent, given the short notice. The Northern Ireland Assembly debated a motion brought by the Executive on the Agreement on 30 December and agreed by 47 votes to 38 to an amended motion:
“That this Assembly takes note of the trade and cooperation agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union; rejects Brexit, in line with the democratically expressed view of the people of Northern Ireland; notes that this deal will mean new barriers to trade and other negative consequences for Northern Ireland’s economy and society; and calls for the implementation of the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, positive efforts to make arrangements work for all the people of Northern Ireland, and for this Assembly to decline legislative consent to the British Government to impose the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill, their inferior trade deal and their Brexit against the will of the people of Northern Ireland.”
On the EU side, EU member states and the European Parliament had to consent to the agreement. The European Commission proposed to apply the agreement provisionally. The European Council (made up of the 27 EU leaders) authorised the provisional application. European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen signed on behalf of the European Union.
The European Parliament’s International Trade (INTA) and Foreign Affairs (AFET) Committees, as well as other technical Committees, scrutinised the deal and a resolution was prepared by the UK Coordination Group and the Conference of Presidents. A consent decision was voted on by the Parliament at the end of April 2021 and was adopted by 660 votes for, 5 against, and 32 abstentions. Finally, the Council adopted a decision on the conclusion of the agreement.
The European single market has no internal borders or regulatory obstacles to the free movement of goods and services. The single market includes the 27 member states of the EU, as well as other countries such as Switzerland, and Iceland (which is part of the European Economic Area). The UK was part of the single market during the transition period. Northern Ireland will remain in the single market for goods. The EU single market rests on ‘four freedoms’: free movement of goods, capital, services, and people. For example, there are no customs duties on goods moving between member states, and EU citizens are free to travel, work, and live in other EU countries.
The EU customs union is made up of the 27 EU member states which impose a uniform single customs policy on goods entering the EU from third countries: primarily this means the countries apply a common external tariff, and common trade quotas. The customs union enables the single market to operate properly. Trade between individual EU member states is free of customs duties. EU trade deals are negotiated by the European Commission on behalf of the bloc.
Common Frameworks and the Internal Market Act are designed to enable the functioning of the UK Internal Market. The UK Government has calculated that there are 154 areas of EU law which intersect with devolved competences (i.e. areas where powers have been devolved to administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). EU legislation previously provided a degree of consistency across the UK. The Common Frameworks approach is an “agreed common approach” to these areas previously governed by EU legislation, and will ensure a coherent approach to regulation, while allowing devolved administrations to diverge to some extent in their implementation of the rules.
According to the UK Government, the Frameworks will be “based on established conventions and practices, including that the competence of the devolved institutions will not normally be adjusted without their consent”. An amendment was made to the Internal Market Bill (now Act) to acknowledge the role of frameworks and to allow for some regulations to be excluded from the market access principles if agreed through the common frameworks process. The Internal Market Act operates on the basis of two principles: non-discrimination and mutual recognition. Non-discrimination means that regulations in one region of the UK should not discriminate against goods or services from another region of the UK. Mutual recognition ensures that any goods and services sold legally in one part of the UK can also be sold in any other part of the UK.
A significant amount of primary and secondary legislation is required to deal with Brexit and ensure the functioning of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act was passed in 2018 and as of 31st January 2020 repealed the European Communities Act of 1972, ending the supremacy of EU law in the UK. It converted EU law into domestic law – this was important to ensure some continuity and certainty in areas previously covered by EU law. The EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 gave legislative effect to the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement agreed between the UK and EU. The European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 gave the Trade and Cooperation Agreement legislative effect.
A series of other Bills and Acts have already, or are in the process of being passed to take account of new UK policy in areas previously governed by EU law. These include the Agriculture Act 2020, the Fisheries Act 2020, the Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) Act 2019, and the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020, as well as the Internal Market Act 2020, Trade Act 2021, and Taxation (Post-transition Period) Act 2020.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 gave Ministers power to create statutory instruments (SIs) to manage the legal issues caused by Brexit and ensure the law will function properly. SIs are the most common type of secondary legislation. Scrutiny of SIs is a matter for the UK Parliament.
The Northern Ireland Assembly scrutinises secondary legislation in the form of Statutory Rules, another type of secondary legislation, which are made by Northern Ireland Departments, in accordance with powers granted in the primary legislation.
International relations are a reserved matter, i.e. the responsibility lies with the UK Government and Parliament, rather than with the devolved administrations. David Frost was the UK’s Chief Negotiator with the EU, leading the team in the Cabinet Office which worked on the future relationship negotiations. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen were the most senior political figures involved in the negotiations.
On 1 March 2021, David Frost took up his position as Minister of State in the Cabinet Office with responsibility for oversight of the implementation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. He is co-chair of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement Partnership Council. Lord Frost holds overall responsibility for UK relations with the EU.
In the New Decade, New Approach agreement, which restored devolved government in Northern Ireland, the UK Government committed to ensuring that members of the NI Executive would be invited to take part in meetings of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee where Northern Ireland specific matters are being discussed, and where the Irish Government is present as part of the EU delegation.
The Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) is a set of Committees made up of Ministers from the UK, Scottish, and Welsh Governments, and the Northern Ireland Executive. It is designed to coordinate the relationship between the UK Government and the devolved administrations. The JMC on EU negotiations - JMC(EN) - was established to discuss matters relating to the UK’s exit from the EU and provide for political engagement on these matters. The JMC (EU negotiations) met six times in 2020.
In March 2021, the UK Government published a progress update on the joint intergovernmental relations(IGR) Review, a joint review by the UK Government and devolved administrations “to make sure intergovernmental structures are fit for purpose”. The Governments agree that the intergovernmental machinery should “facilitate effective collaboration and regular engagement between the governments in the context of increased interaction between devolved and reserved competence following departure from the EU.”
In the referendum on 23rd June 2016, the UK voted by 52% to 48% to leave the EU.
Regional breakdown of the results:
- England: Leave 53%, Remain 47%
- Wales: Leave 53%, Remain 47%
- Northern Ireland: Remain 56%, Leave 44%
- Scotland: Remain 62%, Leave 38%
Source: BBC News
Brexit and Northern Ireland
Given that Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which shares a land border with the EU, it faces unique circumstances as a result of Brexit. The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland aims to recognise NI’s unique circumstances, and avoid a hard border whereby Northern Ireland stays in the EU single market and still applies many EU laws and regulations.
The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland aims to recognise the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland as the only part of the UK with a land border with an EU country. The Protocol is designed to maintain the conditions for north-south cooperation, avoid a hard border, and protect the EU single market. Northern Ireland remains a part of the UK customs territory, while enforcing the EU Customs Code. NI remains in the EU single market and accordingly applies the necessary regulations and checks. The region also remains part of the Single Electricity Market. The Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK is maintained.
The Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol contains a ‘democratic consent mechanism’. This means that after four years the Northern Ireland Assembly will vote on whether to retain Articles 5-10 of the Protocol - the provisions under which NI applies EU single market regulations and the EU customs code. If the vote passes with cross-community support, the next vote will take place after eight years. If the vote passes by a simple majority, the next vote will be in four years. If the Assembly votes not to continue the provisions, they will cease to apply after two years and ‘new arrangements’ will be put in place. The first vote will take place before the end of 2024.
Oversight bodies were established within the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure the proper implementation and application of the agreement. The Joint Committee provides a forum to resolve disputes regarding its application and if no solution can be found, disputes will be referred to an arbitration panel. David Frost, Minister of State in the Cabinet Office, chairs the Joint Committee alongside European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. There are six Specialised Committees under the Joint Committee, which cover specialised areas including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Only the Joint Committee can make binding decisions. The third tier of governance is the Joint Consultative Working Group. This is where the EU will inform the UK about “planned [European] Union acts within the scope of this Protocol, including Union acts that amend or replace the Union acts listed in the Annexes to this Protocol” i.e. the EU legislation which applies to Northern Ireland. [Source: Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland]
Find out more about the governance of the Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol.
The Protocol states that the UK authorities are responsible for implementing the Protocol. It also states that EU representatives “have the right to be present during any activities of the authorities of the United Kingdom related to the implementation and application of provisions of Union law made applicable by this Protocol”.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs is the central authority for regulating imports subject to sanitary and phytosanitary checks under the Protocol.
Article 16 of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland states that “If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures.”
Under the Protocol, Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market, while the rest of the UK has left. This has implications for its trading arrangements:
- GB-NI imports must comply with customs formalities (entry summary declarations and customs declarations) and checks. Customs duties do not apply to UK goods under the TCA. There are more complex rules for goods moving into NI from outside the EU and UK, or goods moving GB-NI, which have previously been imported from the EU.
- Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks are required on agri-food, plant and animal products moving GB-NI.
- Risk based checks are carried out on industrial products (GB-NI)
- Movement of goods between NI and the EU remains unchanged and declarations are not needed
- EU VAT rules continue to apply in NI
Ongoing discussions on the implementation of trade arrangements
In December 2020, the Joint Committee, which oversees the implementation of the Protocol, agreed clarifications which eased some concerns of traders and hauliers around the new checks and administration, even if only temporarily. The Committee agreed some flexibility and ‘grace periods’ for the implementation of the Protocol-related checks. There are ‘grace periods’ for supermarket suppliers, and for certain chilled meat products which are usually prohibited for import into the EU.
On 3 March 2021, the UK Government announced it would unilaterally extend the grace periods for supermarkets and their suppliers until 1 October. When the grace periods end, the bureaucratic burden on importers to NI from GB will increase as there is no mutual recognition of equivalence for SPS measures in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. It is expected that after this period, Northern Ireland supermarkets would find new sources for such products. Animal and plant products entering NI from GB will then need Export Health Certificates (EHCs) and all goods will need import declarations.
The possibility of a veterinary agreement has been discussed by some politicians, farmers and businesses. Such an agreement (which the UK has with countries like New Zealand and Switzerland) could reduce the volume of checks and controls between GB and NI.
In December, the Joint Committee also made a decision on ‘at risk’ goods (i.e. those goods imported into NI which would be subject to an EU tariff, and are at risk of moving onwards into the EU). The zero quota/zero tariff trade agreement on goods moving between the UK and EU means that the ‘at risk’ issue is much reduced (the risk that NI would be used as a ‘backdoor’ into the single market to avoid tariffs is much lower). It will now come into play, for example, when goods are imported into Northern Ireland from third countries, i.e. from countries outside of the EU. Customs formalities will still apply, which means additional administrative work for businesses.
The EU and UK have been engaged in discussions about the implementation of the Protocol. In July 2021, the UK Government published a Command Paper on the Protocol which sets out what it calls a ‘compromise model’ including new arrangements for trade in goods and for the governance of the agreement. The EU has said it will not renegotiate the Protocol but seeks “creative solutions, within the framework of the Protocol”. It argues that an SPS or veterinary agreement, whereby the UK follows EU rules in certain areas, would resolve many of the current issues.
In September 2021, Lord Frost laid a Written Ministerial Statement in Parliament stating that the Government will continue to operate the Protocol as it is currently – i.e. with the current grace periods – in order to “provide space for potential further discussions, and to give certainty and stability to businesses”. The European Commission has noted the statement.
SPS refers to sanitary and phytosanitary measures which are designed to protect animal, plant and public health. This ensures that food imported, and supplied to consumers and animals, is safe to eat, and free from disease. The EU has strict measures to protect its single market and reduce the risk of health threats and diseases being introduced to the market. Checks are carried out on agri-food products, live animals, and plants.
It was already understood that the end of the transition period would bring new barriers to trade between GB and NI: the region remains in the EU single market and applies the EU Customs Code, while the UK was leaving. The question was: how much could a trade deal alleviate this friction?
The zero quota/zero tariff agreement on goods moving between the UK and EU means that the issue of ‘at risk’ goods is much reduced. However, customs formalities still apply for goods moving from GB-NI, and there is no agreement on SPS equivalence which mean these checks need to be carried out in Northern Ireland.
The agreement on security means that the EU and UK maintain some of their cooperation, but this is limited: the UK no longer participates fully in EU agencies and databases. There are means to continue close cooperation and swift sharing of data. This is important for Northern Ireland, given the cross-border cooperation on matters such as policing and security. For more information, the UK Parliament Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has published a report on this topic.
See further questions and answers below for more detail on:
- PEACE funding for Northern Ireland
- Food supplies
- Pet travel
The Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland was established prior to the UK and Ireland joining the EU, and will continue to function: citizens of Ireland and the UK will still be able to travel and work freely in the respective jurisdictions.
If you are travelling to the EU on a UK passport, it should have at least six months validity and be less than 10 years old. Visitors can stay in the EU for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. British citizens travelling from GB with a pet will need a vet certificate and relevant vaccines. This also applies when bringing a pet from GB to NI, however there is a grace period in place. [See below for more information about pet travel]
Those born in Northern Ireland have a right to claim Irish citizenship, as per the Good Friday Agreement, and those who choose or have chosen to avail of this will be able to continue to exercise many EU rights, such as the freedom to live and work in EU and EEA member states. The rights of British passport holders will depend on the EU country’s individual immigration rules, and they will no longer have an automatic right to emigrate to an EU country. This does not apply to movement between Ireland and the UK, where the Common Travel area enables British and Irish citizens to live and work in either country.
Pets travelling from GB to EU countries or to Northern Ireland will need a microchip, certain vaccinations or treatments, and an animal health certificate. If the pet has an EU pet passport this can be used in place of the animal health certificate. Travellers will need to enter EU countries via a travellers' point of entry where there may be documentary and identity checks.
Under the Protocol, Northern Ireland remains part of the EU Pet Travel Scheme and therefore these rules apply to pets entering Northern Ireland from GB. There will be no checks for pets travelling from NI to GB, but the pets will have to adhere to the EU requirements for re-entering Northern Ireland. In June 2021, the Northern Ireland Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Edwin Poots stated that the grace period for these rules and checks would apply until at least 1 October 2021. In September 2021, Minister Poots stated that he had told his officials to "indefinitely allow all pet dogs, cats and ferrets travelling from GB to NI without checks" until negotiations between the EU and UK have concluded.
Pets can continue to travel to the Republic of Ireland as they did before Brexit (provided they comply with the EU Pet Travel Regulation – i.e they have a microchip, rabies vaccine, and an EU pet passport).
Guide dogs must also comply with these rules. However, the European Commission says it has identified a solution for this problem. It says, "it is for the Northern Irish competent authorities to now define the details for its implementation on the ground."
The UK Government reached an agreement which protects the rights of EU, EEA and Swiss citizens who are resident in Northern Ireland by the end of 2020. EU citizens living in Northern Ireland by 31 December 2020 had to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living here after 30 June 2021. This does not apply to Irish citizens who maintain the benefits of the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland. The Settlement Scheme allows EU citizens to stay and continue to work, study and access benefits and services broadly on the same basis as they currently do.
EU citizens who arrive after 1 January 2021 to live in the UK may need a visa. The UK’s ‘point-based’ system applies to all immigrants to the UK – freedom of movement from EU countries no longer applies. There are several routes to immigrate to the UK: for skilled workers with job offers, a global talent scheme for highly-skilled scientists and researchers, and student visa routes for international students and graduates. Again, this does not apply to Irish citizens.
The UK Government has decided to no longer participate in the Erasmus+ programme. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated that he intends to replace the Erasmus scheme with an alternative programme, the ‘Turing programme’, named after mathematician Alan Turing. The Irish Government has committed to put in place arrangements so that students in NI universities and educational institutions will continue to have access to the Erasmus scheme. Students will have to register with an Irish higher education institution temporarily in order to take part, and will be funded by the Irish Government. This provision applies regardless of whether the NI citizen holds an Irish passport.
EU students already studying in Northern Ireland will continue to have ‘home status’ and can avail of ‘home fee’ status for the duration of their studies here. They will also continue to have access to funding supports and loans from Student Finance NI.
Under the Protocol, EU pharmaceutical law applies in Northern Ireland. The EU and UK agreed to give the pharmaceutical industry a 12-month period until 1 January 2022 to comply with the new regulatory regime. In September 2021, the UK Government announced it will continue to operate the Protocol as it is currently – i.e. with the grace periods in place.
Issues around medicines supply for Northern Ireland have caused concern: under the Protocol, medicines in Northern Ireland are regulated through the European Medicines Agency (EMA), while in the rest of the UK medicines are regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Future divergence between the UK and EU on regulation of medicines may cause difficulties, for example, if the EMA or MHRA authorises a new medicine ahead of the other. NI Health Minister Robin Swann has said he is "committed to ensuring that Northern Ireland citizens continue to have the same access to new medicines and innovative treatments as citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom."
On 30 June 2021, the EU announced that it had “identified a creative solution” to ensure the continued long-term supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This will involve the EU changing its legislation and the European Commission intends to put forward a legislative proposal in the early autumn on this. The UK Government has said the proposal is a welcome start, but that it would not satisfactorily deal with certain medicines (such as new cancer drugs). It suggests that medicines should be removed from the scope of the Protocol, with strong enforcement and data sharing mechanisms to mitigate the risks. [UK Command Paper on the Protocol]
Brexit means that there are new checks and rules on goods moving from GB to NI: previously the UK’s membership of the EU single market had removed the need for most checks. Now goods, particularly food produce, moving from GB-NI must comply with EU regulations and sanitary and phytosanitary rules, and certain documentary, identity, and physical checks are applied. Some disruptions to the food supply chain have been reported since the operation of the Protocol began on 1 January. Retailers have called for action to address the issues (which will get more difficult when grace periods end), and have proposed solutions such as a trusted trader scheme, and an SPS agreement.
There are currently flexibilities and grace periods for the supply of chilled meats (usually banned for import to the EU), and for supermarkets and their suppliers. These were initially agreed in December 2020 by the EU and UK and have subsequently been unilaterally extended by the UK Government (UKG announcement on supermarkets) or by joint agreement (UK and EU agreement on chilled meats). On 6 September 2021, Lord Frost laid a Written Ministerial Statement in Parliament stating that the Government will continue to operate the Protocol on the current basis – i.e. with the grace periods. The European Commission has noted the statement.
The EU says it is ready to find “creative solutions, within the framework of the Protocol”. For the EU, the purpose of the grace periods is to allow supermarkets to adjust their supply chains. It considers a ‘Swiss-style’ veterinary agreement as the “only workable solution” to reduce checks and controls. Meanwhile, in July 2021, the UK Government published a Command Paper on the Protocol which proposes a new ‘light-touch’ system for agri-food and SPS checks, which would apply full checks and controls only on goods going to Ireland, and no additional checks for products consumed in Northern Ireland.
In the Withdrawal Agreement the UK and EU committed to continue their support for the PEACE+ programme. The EU has also agreed in its recent Multi-Annual Financial Framework 2021-2027 to provide significant funding for a future PEACE programme. In December 2020, the UK Government announced a further £200 million funding for PEACE+ until 2027, in addition to £300 million already pledged by the Government. Thus for the next number of years this funding for Northern Ireland will be maintained. The recent Trade and Cooperation Agreement does not cover PEACE+ funding as it is a programme under shared management. You can find more information on this topic in the evidence session held in November by the Committee for the Executive Office with the Special EU Programmes Body, which implements the PEACE programmes.
What are the implications of Brexit for the UK’s wider trading arrangements? How does this affect Northern Ireland?
Under the Protocol, Northern Ireland products do not count towards ‘origin requirements’ in EU Free Trade Agreements. It is estimated that around 25% of NI goods imported into Ireland are by firms which export to countries with which the EU has an FTA. For the dairy and beverage sectors, the percentage of imports is 61%. [Source: ESRI paper for the Department for Economy]. In February 2021, the Committee heard that this issue could be resolved if the EU asked its trade partners to continue to allow NI inputs to count towards rules of origin. In January 2021, the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee heard that at that stage, there hadn’t been any issues for products partly produced in NI and exported by Irish companies.