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The Deal- Safeguarding The Union

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Today, two pieces of legislation to implement the deal he negotiated will be debated and fast-tracked by MPs providing legislative assurances on Northern Ireland's constitutional position within the UK, with the other delivering the changes to the trading system by amending the Internal Markets Act.

This paves the way for the Northern Ireland Assembly to meet on Saturday to elect a new speaker, First and deputy First Minister and Ministers to each portfolio before the first Executive Meeting on Monday who will face many challenges not least public services, public sector pay and the on-going strikes.

As for Sir Jeffrey, while buoyed by his achievements, he will continue to face stiff opposition to the deal from his opponents, both internal and external, who he has called out as ‘naysayers, who have delivered nothing’.

Set out below is the details of the deal, across four key areas and what the trade changes mean for businesses East West and North South.

The Deal - Safeguarding the Union

So, what is the deal and what does it mean constitutionally and for businesses? A key premise of the deal is to ease unionist fears on the ‘Irish Sea Border’. ‘Safeguarding the Union’ is an 80-page document and claims to “strengthens the UK Internal Market and the Union in the long term, while ensuring the whole of the UK can benefit from the freedoms delivered by Brexit.” The deal it claims, “Builds on the progress under the Windsor Framework and offers a brighter future for Northern Ireland.”

Within the paper four main areas are explored. These are:

·        Strengthening the Union

·        Further Changes & their Impacts on the Windsor Framework

·        Strengthening the UK Internal Market

·        Safeguarding the Union for the Future

What is in the deal?

1.     Strengthening the Union

·        Strengthening the Union chapter underlines that these measures, set alongside the progress made in the Windsor Framework, operate entirely consistently with Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom, including as expressed by the Acts of Union in its modern context.

·        The Secretary of State will legislate to reaffirm NI constitutional status which will be recognised in domestic law through the Stormont brake and reaffirmed that any automatic or permanent alignment with EU law will no longer apply.

·        This is with a view to future proofing NI’s place in the internal market and will prevent any such alignment and with it any barriers with NI and the rest of the UK.

·        Reduced paperwork, with the removal of routine checks, on goods moving from GB into Northern Ireland. These changes involve the maximum flexibility allowed under a previous EU/UK deal. It is understood the move will be acceptable to the EU.

·        Limitation to the goods that will flow through the red lane that will ultimately prevent bureaucracy and red tape.  

2.     Further Changes & their Impacts on the Windsor Framework

·        This section deals specifically with reducing friction within the UK’s internal market and provides for a new ‘internal market guarantee’ ensuring that there will be no ‘unnecessary checks’ within the UK internal market.

·        It recognises the end of the presumption of dynamic alignment with EU law in Northern Ireland and the establishment of a new East West Council to strengthen political and industry links between NI and GB (similar to the North South Ministerial Council).

3.     Strengthening the UK internal market

·        The deal sets out how the Government will strengthen the UK’s internal market, recognising the importance of East-West trade to Northern Ireland’s economic life.

·        Measures will include abolition of legal duties on the Government with regards to the so-called ‘all-island economy’; protecting the placement of goods on the NI market by delivering on the commitment to apply Windsor Framework labelling requirements UK-wide; and strengthening and expanding the unfettered access of NI goods to rest of the UK.

·         When UK government ministers are introducing new legislation, they will be compelled to tell Parliament if their Bill will have "significant adverse implications for Northern Ireland's place in the UK internal market".

  • The deal will deliver unfettered access to the whole of the UK internal market with internal trade taking place under a new internal trade market system.

  • New structures - established such as an independent monitoring panel to ensure practical and pragmatic approach “without gold plating”.

  • Formation of, Intertrade UK, to promote trade within the UK. It is modelled on Intertrade Ireland, a body jointly funded by Stormont and the Irish government to help small businesses develop cross-border markets on the island of Ireland.

4.     Safeguarding the Union for the Future

·        The new structures and processes will protect the UK’s internal market. These include new Internal Market Assessments for new regulatory measures, and legal requirements to consider the impact of new legislation on internal a market trade; and new UK Government structures and avenues for a restored NI Executive to work with the UK Government to identify and address issues as they arise.

·        Independent monitoring panel and stronger statutory requirements around the operation of the independent review of the Windsor Framework with a vote later this year to ensure it is robust, independent and timely.

·        More clarity on the operation of the Stormont Brake (mechanism for the Assembly to raise concern about divergence from UK customs law), to ensure it serves as strong a safeguard in practice as it is when set out to be in legislation.

Other Areas

Public Services

  • The Secretary of State said that funding of over £3bn announced late last year will provide a “solid foundation” for the Executive to deliver for the people of NI, and will address public sector pay pressures.

  • He also said that there will be an updated Barnett Formula now and into the future. This will decide how funding is provided to Northern Ireland from central government in London and was a key ask of all the NI Parties.

 

What will this mean for Business?

The proposed changes will mean that any goods being imported directly from Ireland into GB will need to complete import processes. The vast majority of goods moving from NI to GB through Ireland will no longer need to complete import declarations.

Hauliers will need to provide a valid Goods Movement Reference (GMR) for all freight moving through roll-on roll-off ports from Ireland to Great Britain from 31‌‌‌ ‌‌January 2024, including movements of qualifying Northern Ireland goods.

However, some goods will have to complete import declarations. These include: 

·        Non-qualifying Northern Ireland goods

·        Goods which do not merely pass through the ROI once they have left NI.

·        Goods such as excise goods alcohol, tobacco or energy products; and

·        Goods moved on this route for an avoidance purpose.

This has led to UK food and drink industry bodies expressing concerns about these new rules on governing products sent from GB to NI citing the potential for major impacts on manufactures and processors and fearing proposed changes will disincentive SMEs from supplying to Northern Ireland.

All goods moved from Northern Ireland to Great Britain through Ireland (including qualifying Northern Ireland goods) will continue to need an export declaration to meet the EU requirement, as well as the Irish pre-boarding notification (PBN) at roll-on roll-off ports.

Overall there has been a warm welcome to the deal from business organisations with the Federation of Small Business highlighting the opportunities with potential for corporation tax devolution and Retail NI welcoming commitments on Investment Zones.

 

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