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By Brian Monteith – 6 minute read

HAVING HEARD the Prime Minister’s sales pitch of the Windsor Framework when he launched it I immediately smelled a rat. It sounded too good to be true. Sadly, my initial fears have been proven right.

It is not any good at all, indeed it is actually worse than the Protocol. Let me explain why.

Before the new framework agreement was launched I thought I would set for myself a couple of simple tests to see what its practical impact would be, beyond the constitutional issues around sovereignty that are already deal breakers. Surely, for all the claims that his framework was superior to what currently exists in the Protocol, the Prime Minister would have won some significant gains in what can and cannot be traded within the UK’s very own internal market? If so, these could suggest Unionists should claim the EU had conceded significant ground, pocket a rare victory and take credit for forcing a compromise.

I have written many times before on the practical impacts of the Protocol and these have included the Scottish trade in plants and animals to Northern Ireland and the plight of Northern Ireland’s fishermen. I thought these should be my practical tests.

For the impact on fishing I contacted Alan McCulla, the CEO of the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation (ANIFPO). Here is the verbatim response that Alan told me:

“For our fishing industry it starts at sea, harvesting seafood from the Irish Sea, before landing it into home ports where it is processed and packed for export across the UK and beyond.

“The problems with the Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol starts at sea.

“1. From 1 January 2021 NI trawlers were excluded from Irish/EU waters, where a significant amount of fishing effort was exercised, in particular by the Kilkeel fleet. To reflect the historic nature of the VoisinageAgreement the UK, EU and Ireland did reach an agreement allowing access to Irish waters between 0 and 6 miles to vessels from both north and south. However, access to important fishing grounds between 6 and 12 miles remained prohibited. (Access for EU vessels to the 6-12 mile zone around the south coast of England is permitted, as it is (ironically) for Crown dependencies including the Isle of Man to Irish waters in the Irish Sea!  Meetings with DEFRA and the EC confirmed this issue might only be resolved if the Withdrawal Agreement was reopened.

“As we understand it the Windsor Framework did reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, but yet again the UK authorities failed to resolve this ‘oversight’ (as they described it 2 years ago).

“So for the fishing fleet the hard sea border has not been removed.” (My emphasis)

“2. Whilst disguised by the grace periods full implementation of the Protocol would require Northern Ireland trawlers to act as though they were coming from a third country every time they enter their home ports to land seafood. A unilateral declaration by the UK said this would not be enforced for the foreseeable future. DEFRA advised this anomaly would be resolved via the Joint Committee. It was not. DEFRA has confirmed that the Windsor agreement does not resolve the issue, BUT there is an understanding that the EC will not challenge the UK’s interpretation. Action speaks louder than warm words.

“So the danger persists that NI trawlers landing their catch into their home ports in NI will have to act as though they are foreigners.” (My emphasis)

“3. When our seafood is landed employment is created to process, pack and export it. With scampi products local landings are augmented by landings brought here [to Northern Ireland] from GB. 100% of this product is primary processed in NI before it is returned to GB to be finished. Under the Protocol all seafood brought to NI from GB has been subject to additional and costly veterinary checks, which had caused supply chain delays. As we understand it the latest agreement has not resolved this, with sources stating that by-products from the primary processing do end up in the Republic, putting at risk bio-security in the EU.

“The Windsor Agreement does not resolve the additional bureaucracy, costs and delays associated with bringing seafood to NI from GB.” (My emphasis).

To summarise Alan McCulla’s points, boats leaving Northern Irish harbours such as the Kilkeel fleet are, under the Protocol, not allowed to land their legitimate catches in their own ports without being treated as foreign vessels and having to complete paperwork and submit veterinary certificates. They can go to Fleetwood in England or Troon in Scotland and land their catches in the usual pre-Protocol manner without such bureaucracy – but for much of their catch such as prawns the processing is (unsurprisingly) located back at their home ports. If they landed in England or Scotland the processing would end up migrating back there (and still face the costly bureaucratic burdens).

In addition, their access to Irish Sea fishing grounds does not recognise the traditional zones previously available in Irish (EU) waters, but access is granted to Irish boats in corresponding UK waters (in other words the agreed arrangement is NOT reciprocal).

The reality is the Windsor Framework does not tackle the three problems the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and its accompanying NI Protocol created.

What about the sale of livestock from GB to Northern Ireland? For this test I looked at the sale of Lambs to NI sheep farmers. I’ll leave it to National Sheep Association CEO Phil Stocker talking to Farming UK to explain:

“There are no changes within the framework to the movement of livestock between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the separation between our nations in the trade of breeding stock is not helping viability of sheep farms [in Northern Ireland], nor the possibility of easily sharing genetics.

“The three year extension for veterinary medicines from December 2022 was given with a view to providing industry with the requisite time to make the necessary changes. However, it is extremely short sighted and disappointing for government to indicate that preventative vaccines for conditions that are often life threatening, can be an item that is even up for discussion.”

The NSA went on and stated: “The Government must step in and find a solution or risk the health of the nation’s flock.”

Again, it’s a FAIL for the Windsor Framework.

Finally there is the sale of plants from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Despite claims (especially by NI Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, that the supply of GB-cultivated plants to Northern Ireland would be significantly easier, investigation of the agreement’s detail by the Belfast Telegraph found yet again, the benefits of the Windsor Framework are greatly exaggerated (full details here).

When it comes to trees there is only a promise of a list of approved trees being agreed at a later date without any detail being available before politicians are expected to vote on the matter. Will Christmas trees from Scotland (and indeed the whole of GB) continue to be banned (so they cannot risk contaminating the EU single market by entering Ireland ?) No one can say.

Even for Scottish seed potatoes that have will become available to NI wholesalers the restrictions for retailers or online will remain. And for those GB plants and trees that will be allowed to enter any part of the UK the vendors shall still face considerable bureaucracy to complete and pay for.

At best then it’s only half a cheer for solving the bans on plants for its neither frictionless or comprehensive.

So there we have it on my tests – and you can read more detail about the Windsor Framework here explaining how EU laws will have superiority over UK law) and here (explaining how the deal is bad for the whole UK).

In short, the Windsor Framework is a fraud.

It does not so much as improve upon the NI Protocol through various new relaxations – what it does is introduce further controls over trade movements in Northern Ireland through new EU lawmaking (not UK laws, but EU laws) in effect replacing the UK’s grace period relaxations; these EU relaxations can then be withdrawn summarily by the EU Commission at its pleasure without any legal intervention available to the UK. This is a far worse position than the UK has at the moment. Nor does it solve the problems of fishing, nor the perfectly reasonable and normal movement of animals and all plants from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.

Likewise, the Stormont Brake is fake.

The mechanism is so smothered and wrapped up in caveats that the ‘brake’ is unlikely to ever be pulled.

The best Stormont Brake is to reject the Windsor Framework and hold out against reopening Stormont until the Protocol is withdrawn. Let NI Office Ministers become  democratically accountable for legislation and executive decisions in Northern Ireland – that’s better than having EU laws imposed above everyone’s heads (including all UK MPs sitting in Westminster).

There is also a political dimension. By creating commercial relaxations through EU laws the EU Commission gains leverage to blackmail and bully the UK into doing what it wants. For all the claims of the Framework providing a Stormont Brake it actually provides a Westminster Brake – because it provides the means for the EU to halt UK divergence – and Rishi Sunak intends to pull it.  The framework is the EU’s Trojan Horse to halt new British laws that could deliver divergence from the EU – by Brussels threatening to suspend the EU’s relaxations until the UK Government climbs down.  This denial of divergence and introduction of dynamic alignment by the back door is best explained here.

No self-respecting unionist should have any truck with the Windsor Framework.

No self-respecting Conservative who, by definition should be a unionist, should have any truck with it.

Any aspect of the Windsor Framework must be voted down and the NI Protocol Bill brought back to life.

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Brian Monteith has worked in public relations for forty years, initially in the City, then Scotland and finally as an international consultant in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. A former member of the European and Scottish parliaments, he is Director of Communications at Global Britain and editor of  ThinkScotland.org.

Photo by kurgu128 from Adobe Stock

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