Governance of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

Synopsis: This page contains information on the governance of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

Withdrawal Agreement

Oversight bodies were established within the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure the proper implementation and application of the agreement. There are three tiers of governance, each reporting upwards to the other.

 

a)       Joint Committee

The primary tier of governance is the Joint Committee which is responsible for the implementation and application of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA). Six Specialised Committees sit under the Joint Committee. The Joint Committee has the power to amend the WA in certain areas but cannot change essential elements of it. The 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. In December 2020 the Joint Committee published a list of 25 persons who would be able to serve as members of an arbitration panel.

Governance structure for the Withdrawal AgreementGovernance structure for the Withdrawal Agreement

The Joint Committee was tasked with taking decisions by the end of the transition period on areas relating to the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland such as the definition of ‘not at risk’ goods, agricultural subsidies, and the presence of EU representatives in Northern Ireland. The Joint Committee furthermore keeps under review EU and UK efforts to facilitate trade between NI and GB, the implementation of EU VAT rules in NI, and considers whether new EU acts are in the scope of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland and should be therefore included in the list of EU law applying to Northern Ireland.

UK Foreign Minister Lord Cameron co-chairs the Joint Committee, alongside European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. Previously the role had been held on the UK side by James Cleverly (then Foreign Secretary) until November 2023, Liz Truss (then Foreign Secretary) until September 2022, David Frost (then Minister of State at the Cabinet Office with responsibility for EU Exit) until December 2021, and Michael Gove (then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) until March 2020. The Joint Committee is the only decision-making structure within the three tiers of governance.  In the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement which restored devolved government to Northern Ireland, the UK Government made a commitment to ensure:

“that representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive are invited to be part of the UK delegation in any meetings of the UK-EU Specialised or Joint Committees discussing Northern Ireland specific matters which are also being attended by the Irish Government as part of the European Union’s delegation.”

Former UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Vice-President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič | Source: Rory Arnold / No 10 Downing Street

The Joint Committee first met in March 2020. It held a significant meeting in December 2020 to adopt decisions relating to the implementation of the Protocol which clarified issues including the criteria for ‘not at risk’ goods entering NI, the application of EU state aid rules, and grace periods for medicines and meat products. On 24 March 2023, the Joint Committee adopted the new arrangements set out in the Windsor Framework. The Framework revises the Protocol in various areas, including customs, agri-food, medicines, VAT and excise, and includes a new mechanism for the involvement of the NI institutions. While the Joint Committee meetings take place in private, the EU and UK publish statements and any decisions adopted following the meetings. You can find this information on the UK Government’s Withdrawal Agreement webpage.

 

Previous meetings of the Joint Committee:

Meeting

Agenda

European Commission statement

UK statement

28 September 2023

Agenda

Joint statement

3 July 2023

Agenda

Joint statement

24 March 2023

Agenda

Joint statement

 

EC press release

21 February 2022

Agenda

 

Joint statement by the co-chairs

EC statement

UKG statement

9 June 2021

Agenda

EC statement

UKG statement

24 February 2021

Agenda  

Joint statement by the co-chairs

 

 

17 December 2020

Joint statement by the co-chairs (8 December 2020)

 

Agenda

 

Minutes of the fifth regular Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee Various decisions and unilateral declarations were made at this meeting.

EC statement

 

UKG statement

19 October 2020

Agenda

EC statement

UKG statement

28 September 2020

Agenda

EC statement

UKG statement

10 September 2020 (extraordinary meeting)

 

EC statement

UKG statement

12 June 2020

Agenda

EC statement

UKG statement

30 March 2020

Agenda  

EC statement

UKG statement

 

The Joint Committee issues an annual report on the functioning of the Withdrawal Agreement. The first report for 2020 was published in June 2021. The Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee annual report for 2021 was published in April 2023.

 

b)       Specialised Committee

In the second tier of governance, there are six Specialised Committees which report to the Joint Committee.  These Specialised Committees focus on key areas within the Withdrawal Agreement and there is a Specialised Committee on the Implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Article 14 of the Protocol states that the Specialised Committee on Northern Ireland should “examine proposals concerning the implementation and application of this Protocol from the North-South Ministerial Council and North-South Implementation bodies set up under the 1998 Agreement” and “consider any matter of relevance to Article 2 of this Protocol brought to its attention by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, and the Joint Committee of representatives of the Human Rights Commissions of Northern Ireland and Ireland”.  The Specialised Committee on the Protocol is attended by officials from the UK and EU, including from the NI Executive. The Specialised Committee on the Protocol first met in April 2020 and has met nine times to date. You can find further details and statements from the meetings on the UK Government’s website.

In the Windsor Framework, the EU and UK agreed that the Specialised Committee can meet in a specific composition, the Special Body on Goods, where the EU and UK would exchange views on any future UK legislation on goods, which is relevant to the operation of the Windsor Framework. It will assess the potential impact of the legislation in Northern Ireland, and “anticipate and discuss any practical difficulties at stake”. Stakeholders may be invited to attend and it may make recommendations to the Joint Committee. [See the joint EU- UK declaration on dialogue and goods]

An Enhanced Coordination Mechanism on VAT and excise was also established in the Windsor Framework. This format of the Specialised Committee is to assist the Joint Committee in reviewing the implementation and application of Article 8 of the Protocol, which applies EU law on VAT and excise in Northern Ireland. It will exchange information and consult on future UK and EU VAT and excise legislation. [See the decision of the Joint Committee]. Its first meeting was held on on 15 June 2023.

 

Meetings of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Windsor Framework:

Meeting

Agenda

European Commission statement

UK statement

4th meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Windsor Framework

 

24 January 2024

Agenda

Joint statement

3rd meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Windsor Framework

 

20 September 2023

Agenda

Joint statement

2nd meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Windsor Framework

 

23 June 2023

Agenda

Joint statement

1st meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Windsor Framework

 

27 April 2023

Agenda

Joint Statement

 The EU and UK adopted the Windsor Framework in March 2023.

10th meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

 

8 March 2022

None issued

Joint Statement by the EU and UK

9th meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

 

24 September 2021

None issued

EC statement

 

UKG statement

8th meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

 

19 July 2021

None issued

EC statement

 

UKG statement  

7th meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

 

26 March 2021

None issued

EC statement

UKG statement

6th meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

 

23 February 2021

None issued

None issued

None issued

5th meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

 

17 December 2020

None issued

None issued

None issued

4th meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

 

5 November 2020

None issued

EC statement

UKG statement  

3rd meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

 

9 October 2020

Agenda

EC statement

 

UKG statement

2nd meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

 

16 July 2020

None issued

EC statement

 

UKG statement

1st meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

 

30 April 2020

None issued

EC statement

 

UKG statement

 

 

c)      Joint Consultative Working Group

The third tier of governance is the Joint Consultative Working Group (JCWG).  Its function is outlined in the Protocol to “serve as a forum for the exchange of information and mutual consultation”, including in relation to the implementation of EU law in Northern Ireland, and amendments or replacements to applicable EU legislation. The JCWG carries out its functions under the supervision of the Specialised Committee on the Protocol, to which it reports.

The Working Group is the forum 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”, in other terms, the EU legislation which applies to Northern Ireland. [Source: Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland]

The group should meet once a month, according to the Protocol.  The draft Rules of Procedure for the JCWG were drawn up following discussions between the EU and UK. The EU Council approved the EU’s position in October 2020, and at the first meeting of the JCWG the rules of procedure were agreed by the EU and UK. In the UK Government Explanatory Memorandum on the proposed rules of the procedure for the Joint Consultative Working Group, the Government committed to inviting officials from the Northern Ireland Executive to form part of the UK delegation to the JCWG meetings.

In the Windsor Framework, the EU and UK agreed to set up “structured sub-groups” to support the work of the Joint Consultative Working Group, where stakeholder input will inform discussions. The JCWG’s rules of procedure were amended by the Windsor Framework. Five structured sub-groups have been established.

When the Windsor Framework was announced, the European Commission also published a document on enhanced engagement with Northern Ireland stakeholders. It set out the following engagement measures:

  • The European Commission’s annual Work Programme will be discussed with NI stakeholders, and in the JCWG.
  • New EU initiatives relevant to NI will be published on the Commission’s webpage on the Protocol, as will relevant public consultations.
  • The Commission will publish the implications for Northern Ireland of new policy initiatives in its impact assessments.

 

Meetings of the Joint Consultative Working Group (JCWG):

The Joint Consultative Working Group met ten times in 2022, and eight times in 2021, according to the annual reports for the Joint Committee.

Junior Ministers from the Executive Office (TEO) have regularly briefed the Committee for the Executive Office on EU Exit matters. The following information has previously been provided about the Joint Consultative Working Group.

Meeting

Published information

8th meeting

2 December 2021

Briefing from TEO – January 2022: The Joint Consultative Working Group (JCWG) continues to take place on a monthly basis. The last meeting was held on 2 December 2021.

7th meeting

15 November 2021

Correspondence from TEO - December 2021: This is an official level meeting and the Executive was represented by officials from the Office of the NI Executive in Brussels and TEO. The meeting included a stocktake of the information exchanged between the UK and EU since the previous meeting, discussion and clarification on information exchanged, and a discussion on the modalities of information exchange

6th meeting

18 October 2021

Briefing from TEO - November 2021: A meeting of the Joint Consultative Working Group took place on 18 October 2021 with a further meeting scheduled for 15 November. The Executive was represented at this official level meeting, which included a stocktake of the information exchanged between the UK and EU since the previous meeting and a discussion on operational matters.

5th meeting

14 September 2021

Briefing from TEO - September 2021: A meeting of the Joint Consultative Working Group took place on 14 September 2021. The Executive was represented at this official level meeting, which included a stocktake of the information exchanged between the UK and EU since the previous meeting and a discussion on operational matters.

4th meeting

15 July 2021

This meeting was referenced in the Explanatory Memorandum for the EU's carbon border adjustment mechanism: At the Joint Consultative Working Group on 15 July 2021, the EU informed the UK that it considers the measure to be new legislation in scope of the Protocol. On this basis, we expect the EU to notify the UK through the Joint Committee once the Regulation is adopted, in accordance with the process set out Article 13(4) of the Protocol.

3rd meeting

12 May 2021

Briefing from TEO - June 2021: The last meeting of the Joint Consultative Working Group took place on 12 May. There is no meeting currently scheduled but meetings are expected to take place on a monthly basis in accordance with the rules of procedure.

2nd meeting

15 April 2021

Briefing from TEO - April 2021: A meeting of the Joint Consultative Working Group took place on 15 April. The Executive was represented at official level at the short meeting which focussed on matters relating to the operation of the group.

1st meeting

29 January 2021

Briefing from TEO – February 2021: The JCWG met for the first time on Friday 29 January 2021. The only item on the agenda was to adopt the rules of procedure. Only representatives of the European Commission and the UK Government were in attendance, however, Cabinet Office has advised that it remains committed to involving Northern Ireland Executive officials in the workings of the JCWG, including attendance at meetings.
A date has not been set for the next meeting of the JCWG. It is expected to meet on a monthly basis, as agreed in the rules of procedure. TEO will continue to keep the Committee updated on the JCWG and any Executive actions.

 

Correspondence from TEO regarding JCWG membership - February 2021 

Rules of procedure: These were approved by the EU via a Council Decision on 23 October and adopted by the UK and EU at the first meeting of the JCWG on 29 January 2021… the functions of the group as set out in the Protocol clearly indicate this group is intended to be a forum for exchange of information at official level between EU and UK Governments. The Rules of Procedure do not indicate a wider membership and no further information is available to the Executive Office at this time regarding the criteria for inviting experts or other persons to meetings of the JCWG or which sectors they may represent.

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