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Brexit & Beyond newsletter

6 November 2023

Welcome to the 6 November 2023 Brexit & Beyond newsletter

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has given evidence on the Windsor Framework to both the Lords Sub-Committee on the Protocol, and the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. A US delegation of businesses leaders visited Northern Ireland. Meetings of the Inter-Parliamentary Forum and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) have taken place.

 

Secretary of State gives evidence to the Lords Sub-Committee

On 25 October, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris gave evidence to the Lords Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State told the committee that in individual meetings and at the recent NI investment summit, lots of people have been “unbelievably positive” about future investments in NI, and more people are bringing in goods using facilitations in the Windsor Framework. Director General in the Cabinet Office Brendan Threlfall said the NI manufacturing and agri-food sectors, which should benefit from NI’s dual market access, have been “performing strongly, despite the fact that there are strong global headwinds in manufacturing”. He noted recent investments by Almac and Coca-Cola. Minister in the NI Office Lord Caine said that NI’s unique status, with privileged access to the EU single market and unfettered access to the United Kingdom internal market is a “very strong selling point” with businesses in the US.

 Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris giving evidence to the committee

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris giving evidence to the committee | Source: UK Parliament

Chris Heaton-Harris was challenged about his comments to the Belfast Telegraph earlier this year in relation to buying plants from Great Britain online. The Minister pointed to the new NI Plant Health Label Scheme (which removes the requirement for a phytosanitary certificate), and the lifting of the ban on seed potatoes and certain trees. Threlfall said online orders from GB are legal for everything where a ban has been lifted. However, the processes for parcels then come into play. Threlfall said there is a need to resolve some matters before next October, as a high-risk tree would require a customs declaration and this “could be a disincentive”.

The Windsor Framework does not include a solution for the supply of veterinary medicines to NI. Heaton-Harris restated the Government position that “there needs to be a long-term and permanent solution that maintains the uninterrupted flow of veterinary medicines into Northern Ireland from Great Britain”. Threlfell said their view is that a bespoke solution is needed. The Government is engaging with industry to fine-tune a solution, which covers three bases: maintains the flow of medicines GB-NI; doesn’t have negative market access implications for NI agri-food; and supports producers of veterinary medicines in NI.  

Threlfall said issues with cattle movements from Scotland to NI are being discussed with the Ulster Farmers’ Union, and the UKG Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)’s Chief Vet is dealing with the matter. Work on a potential solution has been escalated in recent weeks so they hope to resolve this soon.

The Lords Sub-Committee has repeatedly called for the Government to maintain a record of divergence between NI and GB arising from UK or EU legislation. The Secretary of State said the Windsor Framework preserves unfettered access for NI businesses to GB, “regardless of any regulatory divergence” between GB and NI. He added that UK food and drink standards apply for GB supermarket foods entering NI, and highlighted the solution on medicines, concluding, “so divergence in those areas should not cause concern.” He then pointed to the Stormont Brake for future divergence affecting NI and said the Government would “try to ensure and help facilitate knowledge—in politics, let us say—of where divergence might be happening to help that kind of scrutiny mechanism in the Assembly.” He said information on which regulations apply is available, but “trying to put it into a business and UK citizen-friendly form so that it is searchable and easy to access and understand is slightly more difficult than just putting it on a website.” Threlfell added that government departments recognise the need to improve the quality of Explanatory Memoranda.

Pressed by Lord Empey about ongoing discussions and whether there are negotiations on the substance of the Framework, Heaton-Harris said, “We are not reopening the Windsor Framework.” Asked about the application of EU law in NI, the Minister defended the Framework, saying it allows market access and pointed to a letter from the First and deputy First Minister to the Prime Minister in 2016,  which highlighted the unique position of NI and the importance of market access for the agri-food sector.

Lord Hain suggested that there should be a greater focus on direct representation in the Joint Committee and sub-committees for NI Ministers, and their officials. He also suggested a direct consultative mechanism between the European Parliament and the Assembly on matters which affect Northern Ireland. Heaton-Harris said it would be churlish to suggest what the European Parliament should be doing, but he saw the practical sense in the suggestion.

Heaton-Harris said it is “difficult to say” how the Assembly would want to use the Stormont Brake. He stated, “Speaking to various MLAs, I know they want to use it wisely and proportionately. They want to have help, in a way, from the British Government to make sure that there is horizon scanning going on, so that as new regulations and directives are being worked up we can point to a scrutiny process both in this place and, I would like to think, in Stormont…Until we get the Assembly up and running, it is very difficult to know how this will form itself”.

Finally, the Secretary of State explained how the responsibility for the Windsor Framework is coordinated by the Government: the Foreign Secretary has overall responsibility for EU-UK relationship, including as co-chair of the Joint Committee. The implementation deadlines in the Framework are transferred to the Cabinet Office, under Baroness Neville-Rolfe. There is a small ministerial group in government co-chaired by Neville-Rolfe and NI Office Minister Steve Baker, which works on operational matters.

 

NI Affairs Committee scrutinises the Windsor Framework

The Secretary of State also gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Among a range of issues, MPs raised the Windsor Framework, and talks with the DUP around the restoration of the NI Executive. Chris Heaton-Harris described these talks as “long and ongoing”. He thinks they are in “the final stages and in a much more positive space than they have been in previously”.

Heaton-Harris was positive about the operation of the Windsor Framework green lane since 1 October and said there are “clear signs of new traders taking advantage of the new arrangements”. He said there are now 6,985 authorised UK internal market scheme traders, which is 2,859 new businesses and that the operation is “going smoothly and the uptake is going well. More people have seen that it is pretty straightforward to use”. The Minister said there have been cases of non-compliance but they want to deal with it “in a sensible and proportionate way”.

Cabinet Office official Brendan Threlfall explained that the Government is working with retailers on an additional list of ‘rest of world’ goods, which move to NI through GB. He said, “Anything on the fruits list such as bananas, which would only be covered by a public health risk, can move freely within the green lane from wherever it comes from.” Goods, which are then processed, can also use the green lane. He said, “We are working with the retailers specifically on the Thai poultry issue. We are working to get on and expand the list on the meat side, and we are working through the fruit and veg as well to make sure we have good coverage.”

DUP MP Carla Lockhart said she was contacted by a constituent whose load of second-hand farm machinery “was stuck in Warrenpoint because there was British soil on the wheels of the vehicles”. Threlfall stated, “It is the case that if you are bringing in second-hand farm machinery and you are a dealer and that is clearly for onward sale to Ireland…that is a movement from Great Britain to the EU, effectively, and needs to be treated as such. However, if you are bringing the second-hand farm machinery in for sale in Northern Ireland, to end-consumers there, or for direct use by farmers, that is catered for in the Windsor Framework.” He explained they are working to manage this “in a way that works for industry”.

 

US business delegation visits Northern Ireland

A US delegation of business leaders visited Northern Ireland from 24-27 October, led by Joe Kennedy III, US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs. Reuters reports that some of the visiting manufacturing firms were "intrigued by the unique market access" of NI, according to Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI.

 The Speaker of the NI Assembly Alex Maskey, the US Ambassador to the UK Jane Hartley, US Envoy to NI Joe Kennedy III and local party leaders Michelle O’Neill, Jeffrey Donaldson, Naomi Long, and Doug Beattie enter the Great Hall in Parliament Buildings, as part of the Senior US Business Delegation event.

The Speaker of the NI Assembly Alex Maskey, the US Ambassador to the UK Jane Hartley, US Envoy to NI Joe Kennedy III and local party leaders Michelle O’Neill, Jeffrey Donaldson, Naomi Long, and Doug Beattie enter the Great Hall in Parliament Buildings, as part of the Senior US Business Delegation event.

 

Inter-Parliamentary Forum meets in Scotland

The Inter-Parliamentary Forum met on 27 October in the Scottish Parliament. The forum brings together representatives from the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru, and the House of Lords. An official from the Northern Ireland Assembly attended as an observer. The forum discussed the UK Internal Market Act, scrutiny of intergovernmental working, and management of the post-Brexit regulatory environment. The parliamentarians have written to the Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, and relevant Welsh and Scottish Ministers, requesting greater transparency on Common Frameworks for legislatures.

 

Meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA)

The 65th plenary of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) was held on 23-24 October in Kildare, Ireland. BIPA brings together politicians from the Houses of Parliament and Houses of the Oireachtas, and members of parliaments in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey. The BIPA Sovereign Affairs Committee has published a report on ‘Protecting the Common Travel Area in the post-Brexit era.’ It calls on the UK Government to pause the introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorisation requirement for visitors to NI arriving via Ireland. The committee considers the ETA scheme to be “unworkable” on the island of Ireland and “at odds with long-standing CTA arrangements and principles that underpinned the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement”. It also highlighted the potential negative impact on tourism. The Assembly also discussed British-Irish relations, climate policy and recent political developments.

 

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