Rishi Sunak has secured a new agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol, known as the Windsor Framework, which he hopes will end the post-Brexit row in the region.
The deal is long, complex and is currently being implemented by the Democratic Unionist Party, Tory backbenchers and businesses across Northern Ireland.
PA news agency looks at what’s in the deal and why it’s so significant.
– Why was the Northern Ireland Protocol a source of tension?
The protocol was a key part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. It was signed by the then prime minister in 2020 and was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
To keep the border free of flow, London and Brussels have essentially moved the new regulatory and customs checks required by Brexit to the Irish Sea.
The move introduced too much bureaucracy to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, creating headaches for many businesses and angering loyalists and unionists who claim the region’s place within the UK is undermined.
The row over the new arrangements left Northern Ireland without a functioning devolved government, after the Democratic Unionist Party used its veto to reduce devolution in protest against the protocol.
His boycott means that a ministerial executive cannot function and the legislative assembly cannot do any business.
– What’s in the new market for trade?
Mr Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced the Windsor Framework, as the new set of arrangements will be called, on Monday, with the Prime Minister claiming the agreement would “remove any sense of a border in the Irish Sea “.
The agreement, which comes after months of negotiations, covers a range of areas including trade, VAT regulation and Stormont’s role in EU laws relating to Northern Ireland.
The creation of a new system for the flow of goods is at the heart of the agreement.
Anything destined for Northern Ireland will travel there as part of a “green lane”, with far fewer checks. Anything that might cross the border and enter the EU’s single market will go through a separate “red lane”.
The Government says the new green lane will be accessible to the widest range of traders across the UK, including small businesses looking to bring goods into Northern Ireland.
The changes are also set to benefit food retailers, addressing many of the concerns raised about the difficulties of moving British sausages to Northern Ireland as part of agri-food protocol rules.
“If food is available on supermarket shelves in Great Britain, it will be available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland,” Mr Sunak said at a press conference on Monday.
The deal will see supermarkets, wholesalers and hospitality companies all able to use the new green lane, with the requirement to obtain health certificates for individual food products and the promise of “significantly reduced checks” on food items.
Customs processes for parcels have also been abolished, which will mean that parcels can be sent between consumers in Great Britain and Northern Ireland without any additional requirements.
It has also been confirmed that travelers with pets, under the agreement, can now travel throughout the UK without the need for additional health treatments, new costs or additional documents.
The issue has been a source of concern for many, with the protocol creating a range of new rules for cats and dogs moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland – including the requirement of an animal health certificate and rabies vaccination.
As part of the agreement, the legal text of the protocol regarding VAT was also amended. Under the current arrangements, EU VAT and excise rules normally apply to goods in Northern Ireland.
Mr Sunak has said this will change under his agreement, with the legal text of the amended protocol to allow the UK Government to “make critical VAT and excise changes for the whole of the UK”.
Alcohol duty was mentioned, for example – and Mr Sunak suggested that Northern Irish drinkers could be charged the cost of a pint in the pub.
The Windsor Framework also lifts the ban on the transfer of seed potatoes from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
– What is the role of the European Court of Justice under the agreement?
It was expected that both the UK and the EU would try to find a way around the difficult role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Any concerns about the court’s oversight role have been voiced by the DUP and some Tory backbenchers, with the issue less about trade and more about sovereignty.
The ECJ has been the final arbiter of EU law issues in the region, given that Northern Ireland essentially remains within the single market for goods.
The Government believes that the agreement significantly narrows the role of the ECJ, with a new approach set to address some of the concerns related to the lack of democratic representation of Northern Ireland’s representatives in the application of EU law.
That arrangement, known as the “Stormont brake”, is described in the agreement as giving Stormont a “really powerful role” in deciding whether significant new rules will apply to goods that affect life in the region. It is set to operate in the same way as the Good Friday Agreement protection of the petition of concern.
Under that arrangement in Stormont, 30 MLA signatures are required for a petition to be valid, triggering a subsequent vote that requires a majority of both nationalist and unionist MLAs to pass.
It remains to be seen how the arrangement will be introduced in the Stormont institutions, if power-sharing returns, but Downing Street is clear that the ban, once triggered, will give the Government the power to introduce any new or revised rule of law. veto the EU.
But speaking to reporters, Mr von der Leyen said the ECJ was “the only final arbiter of EU law” and would have the “final say” on single market decisions.
She described the Stormont brake as an emergency mechanism that would not be needed.
– What does the EU think about the new deal?
Mr von der Leyen spoke highly of the efforts being made to reach an agreement, saying it was “historic” and one that opened a “new chapter” in UK-EU relations.
In Dublin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the European Union had done “a lot” to facilitate a settlement.
“It is a uniquely positive arrangement for Northern Ireland businesses in particular, that trade can flow back and forth from Britain to Northern Ireland, without the need for checks or difficulties, provided those goods remain in Northern Ireland,” he said.
– When will the changes come into effect?
The Prime Minister said the new deal would make a difference “almost immediately”, but it appears at least some of the changes will come into effect at different times.
For example, new arrangements for post and parcels will come into effect from September 2024 – although some of the precise details of applying the Stormont “brake” are still to be worked out.
But Downing Street has made it clear that significant parts of the deal can be delivered even without bringing back Stormont immediately.
– What happens to the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill?
Boris Johnson’s controversial legislation to overturn post-Brexit rules on Northern Ireland has been shelved by the Prime Minister.
Brussels has in turn agreed to drop its legal action against the United Kingdom, which was launched in retaliation for the former prime minister’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.
Downing Street believes the new deal means the Bill, which is currently in the Lords and was still being promoted by Mr Johnson last week, no longer has legal standing.