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Windsor Framework

Volume 828: debated on Tuesday 7 March 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government which EU laws will be disapplied as a result of the Windsor Framework.

My Lords, the Windsor Framework disapplies swathes of EU law in Northern Ireland—too much to list here in full. We have published a full range of legal texts that underpin this new agreement. It completely carves out whole areas of EU law on issues such as VAT, medicines and food, in a way that the EU has never done before. It means that it is UK laws and standards that apply, and the UK Parliament that decides what those rules should be.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for that reply, I think, although he has not answered the Question. I would be grateful if he could commit to writing to me with, or putting in the Library, a list of the actual laws and regulations that have been disapplied, and not generalities. If they know that it is 1,700 pages, and swathes, they must have the list of laws and regulations. In not publishing them, I fear that they are running into the danger of allowing people to think that the reason that they are not publishing the list is that the vast bulk of the laws in annexe 2 of the protocol, which apply the single market and customs union rules of the EU to Northern Ireland without consent, will remain, and that the Stormont brake—such as it is, with all of its defects—does not apply to them.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for his supplementary. I do apologise that I cannot give him a definitive number at this stage. He will appreciate that I am not an expert in EU law, and I have no intention of becoming one, but my understanding is that the situation is somewhat more complex than just adding together a list. There will of course be some directives that are in part still applied, in respect, for example, of the red channel, and disapplied in respect of the green channel. But I can assure him that, for example, with annexe 1 of the EU regulations covering SPS rules to accommodate Northern Ireland—I have it here—67 EU rules are now disapplied. I will take back what he said about trying to publish a definitive list, but, as I say, the situation is slightly more complicated than just adding together one list.

My Lords, how much of the legislation attached to the Windsor Framework has been written? What is the process for its drafting. Will the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland parties be consulted? Have any of them already been consulted regarding the drafting?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. She will be aware that the legislation is still being drafted. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State spoke to Northern Ireland parties over the weekend, officials engaged with Northern Ireland parties yesterday and there will be more such engagement from my right honourable friend and officials later this week. That process is ongoing and we do wish to bring forward the required legislation as soon as necessary. The noble Baroness mentioned the role of the Irish Government; of course, we keep in close contact with the Irish Government, but I think it is very important that we observe the constitutional proprieties on this matter, given that these are strand 1 issues and internal to the United Kingdom Parliament.

My Lords, in welcoming the framework agreement, may I say to my noble friend that this shows what can be achieved when the principal negotiators are masters of detail, are willing to compromise and have a reputation for honesty and straight dealing—and that is a lesson that should be learned by previous negotiators?

I am grateful to my noble friend; I cannot imagine what possible point he is trying to make with his question, but I can assure him that the attributes he set out are all ones that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has in spades.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that what businesses in Northern Ireland need now is stability and the ability to plan? Does he further agree that, while it is reasonable to allow all parties, including the DUP, time to examine the Windsor deal in detail, it is not reasonable to allow one party to continue to block progress indefinitely?

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness. She is absolutely right that Northern Ireland needs stability and certainty. As I said in response to a Question last week, for those of us who passionately believe in the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom, restoring the institutions and having political stability in Northern Ireland, and building a Northern Ireland that works for all parts of the community, is the surest foundation for strengthening the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I welcome the fact that the DUP has set up a panel to look at the issues around the framework. I hope it will be looking at what it can deliver for Northern Ireland. I hope the Minister can confirm that the Government will fully co-operate with that process, working with the panel. I also say to your Lordships—this is a point that the Minister himself just made—that there is not really a perfect solution to the position we are in. What we want to do is get the best outcomes for Northern Ireland and for the UK. I have to say that I hope that the DUP will conclude that it can go back into the Assembly and Executive, because the only way to truly address the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland is to have a fully functioning Executive and Assembly. So I look forward to the outcome of the panel’s responses and I hope it will recognise the effort that has gone into achieving this agreement.

Well, I appreciate very much the comments of the noble Baroness and the tone with which she expressed them. Of course, we all hugely desire the restoration of the political institutions at the earliest opportunity, not least as we approach the 25th anniversary of the Belfast agreement, which the party opposite negotiated in government. On the panel, that is of course a matter for the Democratic Unionist Party. The Government are committed to working with all parties to take this process forward. Where there is a need for official technical briefings, we are quite prepared to provide those and, as I say, we will work with all parties to take this forward.

My Lords, last week Maroš Šefčovič told his MEPs that the European Court still reigns supreme over Northern Ireland, despite what the British Prime Minister said. He also said that the framework was designed in a way to avoid hostile headlines in the British press, and that the Stormont brake is very much limited in scope and under very strict conditions. Does the Minister accept that the truth about the framework agreement is now out, and it shows that the Prime Minister has hugely oversold it as a triumph, when in fact it is a small tinkering with the methods of delivering the very same protocol that has done so much damage to Northern Ireland?

I thank the noble Baroness. I am afraid that I have to disagree rather fundamentally with her characterisation of the agreement negotiated by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and others, which I regard as a very considerable improvement in all respects on the existing protocol. In respect of a number of issues that she raised, the Windsor Framework will allow for the free flow of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, it will underpin Northern Ireland’s position within our United Kingdom, and the Stormont brake will give the United Kingdom Government a sovereign veto over new legislation within the scope of the protocol.

My Lords, it is quite clear that this brilliant achievement by the Prime Minister deserves widespread support. Would my noble friend not agree that those who wish to serve the people of Northern Ireland would do far better to recognise that this is the best that they will ever get and to make it work?

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Windsor Framework is not merely about Northern Ireland? It has potentially profound implications for the rest of the United Kingdom as well. Paragraph 52 of the Command Paper reads that

“the Office of the Internal Market (OIM) will specifically monitor any impacts for Northern Ireland arising from relevant future regulatory changes”.

Could my noble friend say what the purpose of that is, and what weight the Government are going to give to the results of such monitoring?

The purpose, as I understand it, is to ensure that any proposals for divergence can be managed in a way that is consistent with the integrity of the United Kingdom internal market, which is incredibly important for Northern Ireland and for the rest of the United Kingdom. My noble friend refers to Great Britain, and of course the deal is not just good for Northern Ireland; it is good for businesses in Great Britain that have had trouble supplying the Northern Ireland market, including friends of mine and Members of this House, such as my noble friend Lord Taylor, who I think is not in his place. There have been a number of problems with trade from GB to NI, which this agreement, a brilliant achievement by the Prime Minister, will help to remedy.