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Brexit Brief Newsletter

22 March 2021

Welcome to the 22 March 2021 newsletter

The US President and Vice-President engaged with Ireland’s and Northern Ireland’s leaders on St. Patrick’s Day. The implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland continues to be a matter for discussion. Business representatives appeared before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Westminster. The UK Government has published its latest update on Common Frameworks.


View from the US: Implementation of the Protocol

Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin was hosted by US President Joe Biden for a discussion on St. Patrick’s Day. They released a joint statement following the meeting, stating that they are “unequivocally committed to the Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement), which has been the bedrock of peace, stability, and prosperity in Northern Ireland”. The leaders called for the “good faith implementation of international agreements designed to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris met virtually with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill. President Biden also called in on the meeting, and the US leaders “conveyed support for the Northern Ireland Protocol” and encouraged Foster and O’Neill “to continue working together toward a forward-looking Northern Ireland with a prosperous economy that reflects the identities and aspirations of all traditions”. Foster tweeted that she had stated in the meeting that the Protocol “is damaging to everyone in NI and has no support within Unionism”.

US Vice President on Twitter - I met with Northern Ireland's leaders, Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill. POTUS dropped by. We conveyed strong US support for continued peace, political stability, and economic prosperity for all of Northern Ireland's communities.

Source: Twitter


View from the EU: Implementation of the Protocol

European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič has said the UK Government is advising businesses in NI to breach international law. His remarks followed the European Commission’s initiation of a formal infringement process against the United Kingdom, after it unilaterally extended the grace periods for businesses trading under the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Šefčovič told journalists, “It’s very difficult to operate in the environment where the government which signed and ratified this international law document is actively advising the business community not to follow the rules and not to respect the law.” He said that 80% of difficulties which NI traders face could be resolved if the UK agreed to common SPS standards. He said the Protocol could bring advantages: “I’m sure it can create new jobs, it can bring new investment, it can create new business opportunities. But unfortunately we never get to that level of discussion.”

European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič following the Joint Committee meeting in December 2020 | Source: European Union, 2020

European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič following the Joint Committee meeting in December 2020 | Source: European Union, 2020


Common Frameworks

The UK Government has published its latest report on Common Frameworks, the UK-wide approach to policies which were previously an EU competence and which intersect with devolved competences. The report notes the “significant attention” given to the relationship between frameworks and the Internal Market Act (IMA) during the latter’s passage through Parliament. Two amendments were made in this respect to the IMA:

  • The UK Government may use delegated powers in the Act to exclude divergence which has been agreed through the Common Frameworks process from the operation of the market access principles
  • Every five years, the Office for the Internal Market will report on the intersect between agreements made under Common Frameworks and the market access principles

The Welsh Government, Scottish Government, and UK Government have provisionally confirmed 18 frameworks. Clearance from the NI Executive for these frameworks is pending.

The report states that the operation of Common Frameworks “will not have any adverse consequences” for the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland; the frameworks “contain the governance structures needed to manage any divergence arising from the Protocol”. The report also points out that the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement(TCA), which provisionally entered into force on 1 January, set out some arrangements which directly intersect with Common Frameworks.

 Number of policy areasNorthern Ireland intersectScotland intersectWales intersect
Category 1: No further action





Category 2: Non-legislative frameworks





Category 3: Legislative frameworks






153 (not 154 as one framework appears twice in the tables)




* For a number of EFRA-related frameworks, the position is not yet clear on whether they will require, or will be impacted by, primary legislation. It is currently anticipated that most of these frameworks will not require new primary legislation (and can rely on secondary legislation instead), but until the outstanding issues are resolved they continue to be listed in the legislative category.

Classification of Common Frameworks | Source: UK Government


Business representatives appear before NI Affairs Committee

On Wednesday, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee heard views from business stakeholders on Brexit and the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive of Retail NI, commented on the extension to the grace period, saying, “it is very clear that, if the UK Government had not taken the action they did, we would have had a triple‑whammy on cost and complexity hitting our members”. He said Retail NI would like to see the reopening of the European Commission office in Belfast in order to continue building networks across the EU. He pointed out that a silver lining could be that there is an opportunity to source more local produce. He called for the UK to align with the EU’s agri‑food, sanitary and phytosanitary standards, and for a digital solution “that works from source to shelf and that covers the logistical and technical requirement”, ensuring compliance with the legislative requirements.

Andrew Lynas, Managing Director of Lynas Foodservice outlined what he termed the “sheer excessive nature of all these different bits of paperwork” associated with the Protocol. He said there are practical solutions to work through this. Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster Colin Neill emphasised that they are not seeking a “never-ending” grace period, but that the focus should be on “how we can make the systems work that we are presented with so that our industry can grow and prosper, support employment and indeed do its bit for the Northern Ireland economy”.


Other news

  • On Tuesday in the Northern Ireland Assembly Minister for Health Robin Swann was asked about cross-border healthcare workers who will have to register with professional bodies both in the UK and Ireland. This issue arises as flexibility under EU legislation is coming to an end. Swann stated, “we want to push as many people as possible to get dual registration so that opportunities are not missed. We do not want to see people on the other side of the border, where their certification and registration do not cover them from a liability point of view.” Also in relation to healthcare and Brexit, the BBC has published an article outlining the implications of the UK no longer having access to the EU Cross-Border Healthcare Directive.
  • The NI Business Brexit Working Group, made up of 14 business organisations and representative bodies, is conducting a survey on the NI Protocol. The information from the survey will help inform the group’s engagement with the UK Government and European Commission “on necessary adjustments/mitigations to the Protocol to support trade to/from NI.” The survey is being carried out for the group by researchers from Queen’s University Belfast and the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex. The survey closed on 20th March; results will be published within a week.
  • The Northern Ireland Assembly Research and Information Service has published an article examining the potential implications for artists in Northern Ireland post-Brexit. There are consequences for the movement of equipment, work visas, and access to EU funding.
  • The UK, EU, and Norway have concluded an arrangement on jointly managed fish stocks in the North Sea for 2021. The parties had been holding negotiations since January.
  • The think tank UK in a Changing Europe, has published a paper on the UK Permanent Representation (now the UK Mission) to the EU in Brussels, which expanded by almost 1/3 to manage the demands of the Brexit process. The report finds that the UK’s work was overly-focused on the EU Council and it did not put enough resources into the European Parliament. The UK sends more officials from Whitehall to the Mission in Brussels than it does to Washington.


This Week at the Assembly

  • Monday 22 March, 2 pm – Plenary - Question Time: The Executive Office
  • Wednesday 24 March, 10.05 am – Concurrent meeting: Committee for the Economy, Committee for Infrastructure and Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs - Briefing from The Trader Support Service (TSS) & HMRC, Impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol
  • Wednesday 24 March, 2.55 pm -  Committee for Finance - Withdrawal Agreement Structures - Oral Briefing from NI Assembly EU Affairs Manager
  • Wednesday 24 March, 3.30 PM - Committee for The Executive Office - UK Exit from EU - Post-Brexit Transition - Oral Evidence Session with Business Organisations
  • Thursday 25 March, 11.00 am – Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs - Written Briefings from DAERA on EU Transition Update, and EU Exit legislation


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