EU Law, Northern Ireland, and the Stormont Brake

Synopsis: This page provides information about the Stormont Brake, applicability motions, the Democratic Scrutiny Committee, and commitments from the European Commission about providing greater engagement with Northern Ireland on EU law.

The Windsor Framework established new mechanisms for the Northern Ireland Assembly: the Stormont Brake, applicability motions, and a new committee in the Assembly. This page provides information about these new procedures, and commitments from the European Commission about providing greater engagement with Northern Ireland on EU law.

The original Protocol also included provisions for a Democratic Consent Mechanism: you can read more about this here.

Follow these links to navigate to each section of the page:


EU law and Northern Ireland

Under the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, agreed in October 2019, Northern Ireland remains aligned to EU law relating to the single market for goods.  The Protocol included a list of over 300 pieces of EU legislation which apply in Northern Ireland. Under Article 13(3), the concept of ‘dynamic alignment’ applied, meaning that when the EU laws in that list were amended or replaced, the changes to that law would automatically apply in Northern Ireland. When the EU adopted a new EU law which they deemed was in the scope of the Protocol (and should be added to the list of law applying in Northern Ireland), this was to be discussed in the EU-UK Joint Committee as set out in Article 13(4). The EU and UK would have to agree for it to be added to the Protocol.

Areas of EU law which apply in Northern Ireland include legislation on goods, animal and plant health rules, rules on agricultural production, VAT and excise on goods, and state aid rules. The EU’s Customs Code also applies to goods entering Northern Ireland.



The Stormont Brake

The Windsor Framework was agreed in March 2023 and introduced a new mechanism, the Stormont Brake, which the UK Government calls “a powerful new democratic safeguard”.  

Legal texts and operational details


The Stormont Brake process

Under the terms of the Stormont Brake, 30 MLAs from at least two parties in the NI Assembly can notify the UK Government of their wish that the “emergency brake” on EU law be pulled i.e. that they wish to stop the application of amended or replacement EU law in Northern Ireland.

There are restrictions on its use:

  • The Northern Ireland Executive must be operational and the NI Assembly in regular session
  • The MLAs who wish to pull the Brake must explain:
    • how the notification is being made in “the most exceptional circumstances and as a last resort, having used every other available mechanism”
    • how the content or scope of the amended or replaced EU law “significantly differs” from the original law; and its application “would have a significant impact specific to everyday life of communities in Northern Ireland in a way that is liable to persist”
    • that they have “sought prior substantive discussion with the UK Government and within the Northern Ireland Executive to examine all possibilities in relation to the Union act; taken steps to consult businesses, other traders and civic society affected by the relevant Union act; and made all reasonable use of applicable consultation processes provided by the European Union for new Union acts relevant to Northern Ireland”

Then, if the UK Government is satisfied that the above conditions have been met, it will notify the EU in the Joint Committee. The EU law will not apply in Northern Ireland in its new form two weeks later. The older version of the EU law will still apply.

If the EU thinks the UK’s explanation is “insufficient”, it can request further information from the Government.

At this stage, the relevant law is then discussed in the EU-UK Joint Committee under the process for new EU laws - Article 13(4). The UK Government must not agree (apart from in exceptional circumstances) to adopt the new law unless the Assembly has passed a motion with cross-community support, known as an applicability motion.

In February 2024, the UK Government made the Windsor Framework (Constitutional Status of Northern Ireland) Regulations 2024, which amend section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to reflect the Stormont Brake. Section 7A provides the mechanism for certain EU laws to be given legal effect in the UK. 

The Stormont Brake process is set out in the diagram below*:

A flowchart of the Stormont Brake process, as set out in the text above

At the final stage, the process moves to that set out in Article 13(4) - see below for more information.


Applicability motions

The UK Government also introduced changes to how new laws are added to list of EU law applying in Northern Ireland under the Windsor Framework.

Before the UK can agree with the EU in the Joint Committee that a new EU law should apply in NI, the Northern Ireland Assembly must indicate cross-community support for the new law to be added to the Framework by passing an ‘applicability motion’. The First Minister and the deputy First Minister may table the motion, otherwise another member of the Assembly may then do so.

However, the Government may agree to the law applying in Northern Ireland if:

  • there are “exceptional circumstances”, including if there is no NI Assembly or Executive
  • the new EU law “would not create a new regulatory border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

If the Government proposes to add a new law to the Windsor Framework in one of these cases, it must make a statement to Parliament. The Government also intends to notify the Assembly of such a decision.

The diagram below shows the process for new EU laws to be added to the Framework*:

A flowchart of the applicability motion flowchart, as set out in the text above


The Windsor Framework Democratic Scrutiny Committee

The UK Government legislated through the Windsor Framework (Democratic Scrutiny) Regulations 2024 to make provision for the establishment of a new committee in the Assembly, the Windsor Framework Democratic Scrutiny Committee.

The purpose of the Committee is to assist with the observation and implementation of Article 13(3a) and (4) of the Framework. These are the parts of the Windsor Framework which set out the processes for how new, and amending or replacement EU law may apply in Northern Ireland. The legislation sets out the Committee’s functions:

(a)    the examination and consideration of new EU acts and replacement EU acts,

(b)    the conduct of inquiries and publication of reports in relation to replacement EU acts,

(c)     engagement with businesses, civil society and others as appropriate in relation to replacement EU acts,

(d)    engagement with His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom in relation to replacement EU acts,

(e)    engagement with Ministers and Northern Ireland departments in relation to replacement EU acts,

(f)      the collation and publication of evidence collected as part of its other activities, and

(g)    dealing with other matters (including legislative proposals which may become new EU acts or replacement EU acts) which the Committee considers to be connected with its purpose or other functions.


Proposed EU acts

The UK Government may notify the Committee about new or replacement EU acts which have been proposed by the European Commission. The Committee can monitor the progress of this legislation, publish interim reports, and hold inquiries.


Published EU acts

The Government will also notify the Committee about amending or replacement EU acts which have been published. Following this, the Committee has five working days to decide whether to hold an inquiry into the EU act and must publish its decision. The Committee must have regard to whether the EU act:

  • “significantly differs (in whole or in part) from the content or scope of the EU instrument which it amends or replaces, and
  • would have a significant impact specific to everyday life of communities in Northern Ireland in a way that is liable to persist”

The legislation states that during the inquiry, the Committee must engage with the UK Government, a Minister or Northern Ireland department, and representatives of businesses and civil society potentially affected by the EU act.

The Committee must publish a report on its inquiry no later than 15 working days before the end of the two month scrutiny period (which begins when the EU act is published).

The diagram below sets out the process for the Democratic Scrutiny Committee*:

A flowchart of the processes for the Democratic Scrutiny Committee, as set out in the text above



European Commission commitments

When the Windsor Framework was announced in February 2023, the European Commission published a statement on ‘enhanced engagement with Northern Ireland stakeholders’, saying this is “of paramount importance for the European Union to ensure that their voice is heard as regards the limited set of [EU] law that applies in Northern Ireland”.

The measures set out by the European Commission:

Annual presentation by the Commission on its upcoming policy initiatives and legislative proposals.

  • Every year, Commission representatives will engage with Northern Ireland stakeholders on the Commission Work Programme for the following year. This will highlight relevant proposals of particular interest for Northern Ireland stakeholders enabling timely engagement with them.
  • The Work Programme will also be discussed beforehand in the Joint Consultative Working Group.
  • A list of new, upcoming EU initiatives of relevance to Northern Ireland will be published on the Protocol webpage.

Specific Northern Ireland information sessions on new EU initiatives and additional workshop(s) for Northern Ireland stakeholders

  • If requested by Northern Ireland stakeholders, the Commission will organise information sessions and/or workshops on new initiatives.

Including Northern Ireland relevant public consultations on the Protocol webpage

  • Relevant public consultations and/or involvement of Northern Ireland stakeholders in targeted consultations for specific cases will be included on the Protocol webpage.

Northern Ireland overview in relevant impact assessments accompanying new EU policy initiatives

  • In relevant impact assessments for new EU policy initiatives, there will now be a dedicated overview of Northern Ireland stakeholders’ input. This will set out their views on the implications of the initiative for Northern Ireland and how they have been taken into account in the final proposal

Source: Commission statement on Enhanced engagement with Northern Ireland stakeholder (27 February 2023)


*These flowcharts summarise the processes. They should be read in conjunction with the relevant legislation and documents set out above.

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