Brexit & Beyond newsletter

11 September 2023

Welcome to the 11 September 2023 Brexit & Beyond newsletter

Parliament returned from recess last week; Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office took questions on ‘unfettered access’ for NI businesses, issues around parcels and veterinary medicines, and NI’s dual market access. The UK is re-joining Horizon Europe. Legislation has been published which will implement the Windsor Framework; the ‘green lane’ for agri-food will come into effect in October.

Today, the House of Lords will debate reports on the Windsor Framework, and on citizens’ rights after Brexit. The Lords Sub-Committee on the Protocol will also hold a follow-up evidence session on the implementation of the Windsor Framework on Wednesday. The Secretary of State for NI is scheduled to give evidence to the committee the following week.


Questions in the Commons

The House of Commons returned after recess last week and Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office took questions from MPs on 6 September. Steve Baker, Minister in the NI Office, said he is “absolutely determined” to market NI’s dual market access under the Windsor Framework and will chair a session on this at the investment conference taking place this week in Belfast. He said, “This is not just about access as of right to the UK market and as a privilege to the EU market; it is also about being under our services regulation, which is an advantage, in combination with access to our free trade agreements, such as the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. This is a unique opportunity in all of the world.”

 Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office Steve Baker speaking in the Commons last week

Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office Steve Baker speaking in the Commons last week | Source: UK Parliament

The new Shadow Secretary of State for NI Hilary Benn pressed the Secretary of State on the promised legislation to guarantee ‘unfettered access’ for NI businesses to GB (as set out in the Government’s Border Operating Model). Chris Heaton-Harris said the legislation would be introduced “hopefully in very short order, dependent on making sure we have got it exactly right, so it answers the questions and allows Stormont and the Executive to re-form.”

DUP MP Jim Shannon said that constituents and consumers have contacted him highlighting that many eBay or Amazon providers will no longer ship to Northern Ireland because of increased fees, “demonstrating that Northern Ireland continues to be treated differently”. Minister Baker emphasised that the Windsor Framework means B2C parcels “will not be subject to those burdensome processes”. He said, “We need to redouble our efforts to communicate to suppliers the message that they will be able to take advantage of a new green lane and supply to consumers in Northern Ireland.” The Government published new guidance on moving parcels from GB to NI on Friday.

DUP MP Ian Paisley emphasised the concerns about the future supply of veterinary medicines to NI. He said the EU’s view is that “the negotiations on this matter are ‘over’”. Groups have warned that NI could lose access to 51% of the veterinary medicines it currently receives, when the grace period ends in 2025. Baker said he is “confident” that they will be able to deliver a deal on veterinary medicines.

The Northern Ireland Budget (No.2) Bill was debated on Monday 4 September, where the Windsor Framework was raised. Steve Baker said, “We recognise that this is a hard compromise for Unionists and Eurosceptics…I was among those who said for a long time that we could have administrative and technical solutions to deal with the issues of Northern Ireland...[but] One has to choose from the available futures. The EU has its own stakeholders. We have managed to reset the relationship with Ireland and with the European Union, and that offers the hope of a better future for all of us in western Europe.”


UK re-joins Horizon Europe

The EU and UK have reached a deal on the UK’s association to Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme which has a budget of €95.5 billion. It will also re-join Copernicus, the EU’s satellite system. In a joint statement, the EU and UK say, “Association to Horizon Europe will further strengthen and deepen links between the scientific communities in the UK and the EU, foster innovation and enable researchers to work together on global challenges from climate to health.” UK scientists can apply now for grants and projects and the UK’s association will begin on 1 January 2024. The Prime Minister said, “We have worked with our EU partners to make sure that this is right deal for the UK, unlocking unparalleled research opportunities, and also the right deal for British taxpayers.”

 Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visiting the International Manufacturing Centre at the University of Warwick after the government announced it is to re-join Horizon

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visiting the International Manufacturing Centre at the University of Warwick after the government announced it is to re-join Horizon | Source: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

The UK’s association to Horizon was set out in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement in 2020 but progress was stalled while disagreements continued over the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland. After the Windsor Framework was agreed, negotiations dragged on over financial considerations. The UK will pay approximately €2.6 billion per year to participate in Horizon and Copernicus; it won’t have to pay for the years it was not associated to the programme, and there is a ‘correction mechanism’. A transitional arrangement has been in place, whereby UK institutions could continue to participate in Horizon projects, but funding had to come from other sources, like the UK Government.

The agreement has been widely welcomed, for example by Queen’s University Belfast. However, Professor Simon Usherwood points out it will still be three months before access restarts and the UK’s value from Horizon is inhibited by the lack of free movement of people. Joël Reland writes for the UK in a Changing Europe that a deal on Horizon was the “lowest-hanging of fruit…the process merely serves to underline how difficult it is to build a closer relationship with the EU.”

EU member states must now approve the political agreement before it is formally adopted in the EU-UK Specialised Committee on Participation in Union Programmes. For more information, the Government has published guidance on who can apply, and the UK’s status as an Associated Country. The European Commission has published a Q&A.


Legislation to implement the Windsor Framework

Over the summer, the UK Government has been working on secondary legislation to implement the Windsor Framework, and much of this was published last week.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announcing the Windsor Framework in February

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announcing the Windsor Framework in February | Source: Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street

The Retail Movement Scheme - the ‘green lane’ for agri-food - comes into force on 1 October. This is the date when enhanced SPS Inspection Facilities are to be in place in NI. The estimated costs of the SPS Border Control posts at NI ports are £192.385m (capital expenditure) and approximately £33million each financial year.

The Windsor Framework (Retail Movement Scheme: Public Health, Marketing and Organic Product Standards and Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2023 gives effect to the Northern Ireland Retail Movement Scheme. It will make legal changes so goods moved from GB to NI through the green lane must meet only GB rules on public health, marketing and organics standards. Previously these goods were required to meet EU standards in these areas. EU rules still apply for animal health and plant health. The EU legislation which will no longer apply is set out in the Schedule and the EU’s SPS regulation.

The Windsor Framework (Enforcement etc.) Regulations 2023 will ensure there is a legislative basis for the “pragmatic and proportionate enforcement” of GB public health, marketing and organics standards in NI for goods moved under the Northern Ireland Retail Movement Scheme and for the NI Plant Health Label scheme.

The Windsor Framework (Retail Movement Scheme) Regulations 2023 makes changes regarding the controls and checks applied to retail goods moving under the Retail Movement Scheme. On 1 October, the frequency rate of identity checks will decrease to 10% of all consignments of retail goods moving GB-NI. The explanatory memorandum states that an impact assessment will be published, but the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) has not received one to scrutinise.

The Windsor Framework (Plant Health) Regulations 2023 legislates for the removal of certain requirements for moving plants for planting, and seed potatoes from GB to NI and establishes a Northern Ireland Plant Health label regime. Last week, the Government published guidance on moving plants GB-NI.

The Customs (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 makes changes to customs rules as per the Windsor Framework. This includes the expansion of the range of goods which are considered not “at risk” of moving into the EU, and therefore are not subject to EU customs duties.

The Windsor Framework (Financial Assistance) (Marking of Retail Goods) Regulations 2023 allows the establishment of a new scheme so financial assistance can be provided to businesses for the costs associated with new labelling requirements. On 1 October, prepacked meat and fresh milk in supermarkets will have to be individually labelled in Northern Ireland. The BBC reports on Asda being the first NI supermarket to introduce the new labelling requirements.

Previously the Government published the Windsor Framework (Disclosure of Revenue and Customs Information) Regulations 2023, which allows HMRC to share information on the movements of goods with the EU, as required by the Windsor Framework. The Postal Packets (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2023 enables HMRC and Border Force to “seize, detain or inspect goods, both B2B and consumer, sent from GB to NI in order to ensure that they do not circumvent legislative requirements” under the Windsor Framework.


Other news

  • European Commission Vice-President Maros Šefčovič and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visit Belfast today for an official announcement of over €1 billion in PEACE PLUS funding for Northern Ireland. In the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK and EU committed to continue their support for the PEACE programme, which aims to “support peace and reconciliation and to promote economic and social progress in Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland.”
  • The European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs will visit Northern Ireland and London on 18-19 September, its first visit since Brexit. Discussions will include the Windsor Framework.
  • QUB Professor Katy Hayward has published A Brief NI Guide to Brexit, The Protocol and the Windsor Framework.
  • The Commons Library has published a briefing on the new customs rules for trade with the EU.
  • Last week’s newsletter covered the changes to the definition of ‘qualifying goods’ from Northern Ireland. The Welsh Economy Minister states he was “particularly pleased to secure agreement from the UK Government” to make this change “to reduce the incentive for traders to seek to avoid SPS controls by moving goods to Great Britain from the island of Ireland via Northern Ireland. This should significantly improve biosecurity and reduce the risk of trade being diverted away from Welsh ports.”
  • A Westminster Hall debate was held on the Turing Scheme on 5 September. The UK decided to stop participating in the EU’s Erasmus programme and set up its alternative student mobility programme, the Turing Scheme. Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain stated, “When the funding provided under Erasmus and the funding provided under Turing are compared, there can be no doubt that there has been a real-terms cut—and that is before we take the cost of living into account.”
  • The Senedd Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee visited Brussels last week as part of its inquiry into the governance structures set up to manage UK-EU relations and agreements after Brexit.
  • The UK in a Changing Europe has published a paper on the policy challenges facing the UK. It includes a chapter on relations with the EU.
  • A survey from UK Music finds that Brexit has affected the earnings of almost 30% of music creators: issues include securing visas and work permits, administration and transport costs, and carnets and cabotage.
  • The NI Human Rights Commission has launched its first videos on its role in ensuring the UK Government meets its commitments under Article 2 – that there is “no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity” because of Brexit.

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