What is the Democratic Consent Mechanism?

Synopsis: This page contains information about the Democratic Consent Mechanism, which is to take place in the Northern Ireland Assembly before the end of 2024.


Northern Ireland Assembly during a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in January 2020

The Northern Ireland Assembly pictured during a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in January 2020. The Assembly's first vote on the Windsor Framework will take place in 2024. Source: NI Assembly

  • In 2020, following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, the EU and UK signed the Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, now called the Windsor Framework. Article 18 of the Windsor Framework contains what is known as ‘the democratic consent mechanism’.


  • This is a vote by the Northern Ireland Assembly on Articles 5 to 10 of the Windsor Framework – these are the parts of the Framework under which Northern Ireland applies regulations relating to the EU single market. This was agreed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, and to protect the EU’s single market.

    [Read more about the Windsor Framework in our Q&A]



Assembly vote before the end of 2024

Decorative image - voting in 2024


  • The motion on the continuation of Articles 5 to 10 should be proposed by the First Minister and deputy First Minister. If this does not happen, the motion can be tabled by any Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA).


  • If the Assembly votes against the motion, Articles 5 to 10 shall stop applying after two years. Exactly what would happen in this case is uncertain: the Joint Committee will make recommendations to the EU and UK on the necessary measures or alternatives.


  •  If the motion is passed only with a simple majority (i.e. without cross-community support), the UK Government has stated it will commission an independent review into the Windsor Framework and its implications. The independent review will make recommendations to the UK Government, including on “any new arrangements it believes could command cross-community support.” In March 2023, as part of the Windsor Framework, the UK Government said it would bring the recommendations to the EU-UK Joint Committee.


  • In its Command Paper, Safeguarding the Union, published in January 2024, the UK Government made additional commitments in relation to this review. As part of this agreement, the Windsor Framework (Constitutional Status of Northern Ireland) Regulations 2024, in effect since 20 February 2024, places in law certain requirements for the review, including that it must be raised in the Joint Committee. It must be commissioned within one month of the democratic consent vote; presented to the Government within six months; and laid before Parliament and the Assembly. Within six months, the Secretary of State must publish a written response to any recommendations made by the review.


  • The Government has also stated it would will appoint an Independent Monitoring Panel (IMP) for the Windsor Framework, which would support the work of the independent review.


  • The other articles in the Windsor Framework will remain in force regardless of the outcome of the democratic consent vote. These include provisions on rights of individuals, and the Common Travel Area.


  • If the motion is passed by a majority of MLAs, the next vote will be held 4 years later. If the motion is passed by a majority of MLAs and has cross-community support, the next vote will be held 8 years later.


Cross-community support

Decorative image: 60% of all MLAs need to pass the motion as well as 40% of all nationalist and unionist MLAs

  • Article 18 details how cross-community support will be defined in this case:
    • A majority of those Members of the Legislative Assembly present and voting, including a majority of the unionist and nationalist designations present and voting; or
    • a weighted majority (60%) of Members of the Legislative Assembly present and voting, including at least 40% of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting.






Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meeting in October 2019

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met in October 2019. Shortly after this, the UK and EU reached a new deal, including the democratic consent mechanism. Source: Number 10 Downing Street

  • The Windsor Framework was agreed between the EU and UK following the UK’s vote to leave the EU. Its objectives are “to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, to maintain the necessary conditions for continued North-South cooperation, to avoid a hard border and to protect the 1998 Agreement in all its dimensions.”


  • To achieve these objectives, Articles 5 to 10 of the Windsor Framework contain provisions on customs, movement of goods, EU single market regulations, VAT and excise, the single electricity market, and state aid. Essentially this means Northern Ireland continues to align with many EU rules and maintains access to the EU single market for goods (unlike the rest of the UK). This removes the need for checks and controls on the island of Ireland.



Further reading


Article 18 of the Protocol contains the democratic consent mechanism

You can read the full text of the Windsor Framework, and Article 18, which contains the democratic consent mechanism, on the UK Government's website




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