The Windsor Framework

Synopsis: This page sets out the key elements of the Windsor Framework and the changes it made to the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.


The Windsor Framework is an agreement reached in February 2023 between the UK and the EU, which made changes to the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland established special arrangements for Northern Ireland, aiming “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.” It also aims to protect the EU single market.

Under the Protocol (and unlike the rest of the UK), Northern Ireland aligns with laws relating to the EU single market for goods and relevant regulations and controls apply. This makes trade in goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland more complex, but removed the need for controls on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Goods are checked when they arrive at ports and airports in Northern Ireland from Great Britain. They can then move freely into the EU single market.

Initially, the Protocol operated with “grace periods” - time for businesses to adjust to the new arrangements. Despite this, with the Protocol in force since January 2021, some businesses expressed concerns: it meant more paperwork, processes, and ultimately costs. Some politicians were concerned about its impact on sovereignty and trade within the UK, and a ‘democratic deficit’. There were also restrictions and complexities in the supply of medicines to NI and movement of pets from GB to NI. Some items would have been banned under the full application of the Protocol.  

To remedy this, the Windsor Framework was agreed by the UK Government and European Commission. It was formally adopted by the UK-EU Joint Committee in March 2023 and is being implemented in stages.


The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Windsor

The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Windsor | Picture by Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street



Key elements of the Windsor Framework:

  • The Windsor Framework established an expanded Internal Market Scheme (previously known as the green lane) for goods staying in Northern Ireland with simplified procedures. Goods which are considered at risk of moving into the EU single market (e.g. Ireland) must move through a red lane, where full checks and controls are applied. This new system is based on data sharing, labelling of some goods, and monitoring, so the EU can safeguard its single market.
  • There are easements for retail agri-food i.e. supermarket products, through the NI Retail Movement Scheme. This means the same food is now available in NI supermarkets as in the rest of the UK (under the original Protocol, sausages, for example, would have been banned). UK public health standards apply for supermarket products imported from the UK (under the original Protocol, these imports to NI had to comply with EU standards); but EU animal and plant health rules still apply. Other checks and controls in this area are reduced, and some goods must be labelled ‘not for EU’.
  • There are new procedures for moving plants and agricultural machinery from GB to NI. Seed potatoes are no longer banned from being sent to NI from GB.
  • The Framework removes the requirement for most export declarations for goods moving from NI to GB. The UK Government additionally legislated for this through an amendment to the Internal Market Act in February 2024.
  • There are new processes for parcels sent from GB to NI.
  • The UK Government can now set VAT rates for ‘immovable goods’ e.g. heat pumps, and tax certain alcoholic beverages. The EU VAT scheme for small enterprises (to apply from 2025) will not apply in Northern Ireland. The EU and UK also agreed to establish a list of goods not subject to EU VAT rules, as they are not at risk of entering the EU single market. Under the original Protocol, EU VAT and excise rules applied in NI for goods.
  • Under the original Protocol, there had been numerous concerns about the supply of medicines to NI, as EU laws in this area would have applied. Under the Framework, the UK medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will approve drugs, including innovative drugs, for the whole UK market, including Northern Ireland. Patients in Northern Ireland can access the same medicines at the same time as the rest of the UK, and medicines sent from GB to NI can use the Internal Market Scheme.
  • The Framework did not make legally binding changes on state aid. It clarified how and where EU state aid rules apply to subsidies granted in the UK.
  • There is a new system for people travelling with their pets from GB to NI.
  • The Framework established the Stormont Brake, whereby 30 MLAs from at least two parties can notify the UK Government that they wish to stop the application of an amended or replacement EU law in Northern Ireland.

The Framework also set up additional governance arrangements:

  • An Enhanced Coordination Mechanism to discuss VAT and excise issues. This committee will consider new EU acts on VAT and excise and their application in Northern Ireland “taking into account Northern Ireland’s integral place in the United Kingdom’s internal market, while ensuring the integrity of the [EU] internal market”.
  • A Special Body on Goods to consider the possible impact of future UK goods legislation, and its implication for divergence between GB and NI. It is a specific composition of the Specialised Committee, which can make recommendations to the Joint Committee.
  • Five structured sub-groups to support the work of the Joint Consultative Working Group: on goods regulation, the Single Electricity Market, customs, agri-food, and subsidy control. Stakeholders will be involved in these groups, and their input will inform discussions about EU laws which may apply in Northern Ireland.

Read more about governance of the Windsor Framework



Safeguarding the Union Command Paper

In January 2024, the UK Government published a Command Paper, ‘Safeguarding the Union’, which paved the way for the return of the NI Assembly and Executive. It contains measures and commitments relating to the Windsor Framework and trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain:

  • It sets out a commitment, the Internal Market Guarantee, that more than 80% of all freight movements GB-NI will be treated as ‘not at risk’, and can therefore move to NI using the internal market system rather than the red lane. The Government also set out that it would “remove checks when goods move within the UK internal market system except those conducted by UK authorities and required as part of a risk-based or intelligence-led approach to tackle criminality, abuse of the scheme, smuggling and disease risks.
  • The Government will establish a new working group with the NI Executive to consider the operation of the Framework.
  • The Government will appoint an Independent Monitoring Panel (IMP) for “independent oversight of the operational implementation” of the Framework.



Further information

Find MLAs

Find your MLAs

Locate MLAs


News and Media Centre

Visit the News and Media Centre

Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly

Follow the Assembly on our social media channels

Keep up-to-date with the Assembly

Find out more

Useful Contacts

Contact us

Contacts for different parts of the Assembly

Contact Us