Will Northern Ireland protocol “breakthrough” impact wholesalers?

The UK and EU have taken “3 big steps forward” on the contentious Northern Ireland protocol, which has become a trading challenge since the UK left the European Union in 2020.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, visited the UK for talks on the topic, which appear to have gone well, according to today’s (27 Feb 2023) press conference.

The news seems likely to have ramifications for the significant number of UK-based fastener and tool importers and wholesalers that serve the United Kingdom – including Northern Ireland – and the Republic of Ireland. The level of complexity for wholesalers has increased since Brexit. For example, for those UK wholesalers serving the Republic of Ireland, many have had to stock different lines to adhere to differing EU and UK laws, such as the recent anti-dumping duties applied to certain fasteners from China destined for the EU.

Ursula von der Leyen tweeted: “We have reached an agreement in principle on the Windsor Framework for the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. Long-lasting solutions that will work for everyone in Northern Ireland and protect the EU’s Single Market.”

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “We have now made a decisive breakthrough – together we have changed the original protocol and are announcing the new Windsor framework, to deliver smooth trade throughout the United Kingdom and safeguard sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland.

Sunak added: “We have removed any sense of a border in the Irish Sea… This is a beginning of a new chapter in our [EU and UK] relationship.”

Key changes

Goods destined for Northern Ireland will now travel through a new ‘green lane’ with a separate red lane for goods at risk of moving onto the European Union. The green lane will see the scrapping of “burdensome” customs bureaucracy.

Shopping online will be streamlined for consumers, with no customs paperwork required. Stormont will also have more of a say on EU laws that will affect NI and whether they will apply in the nation.

Doubtless there will be in-depth examination of the new deal – which still have to be passed into law – in the coming weeks and months.