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The Windsor Framework

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What does the Windsor Framework mean for the post-Brexit negotiations and what might happen next? It is time for grown-up discussion to replace lies and deceit.


The Windsor Framework

What does the Windsor Framework mean for the post-Brexit negotiations and what might happen next? It is time for grown-up discussion to replace lies and deceit.

Both words in the title are important.  Windsor, 35km west of London, is the seat of a famous 11th century castle, one of the residences of the British Royal Family. The House of Windsor has been the Royal Family’s official name since 1917. This British symbolism, denoting patriotism and attachment to the monarchy, was chosen carefully to send a message of reassurance to Unionists in Northern Ireland worried about the role of the European Union there after Brexit.

In addition to the symbolism of the place, King Charles III invited European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen to tea at Windsor Castle after she had agreed the framework with the British Prime Minister, underlining further the “Britishness” of the event.

While “Windsor” is a meaningful choice, “Framework” must have been chosen because of what it does not mean: it is not an agreement, not a treaty[1]. Whatever further steps need to be taken to implement the Framework – and they have begun – they do not need full treaty ratification on the EU side by national (or regional) Parliaments, let alone approval by referendum.

In this short commentary, I will concentrate on some of the main features of the Framework and speculate about what may happen next.

The Northern Ireland (“NI”) Protocol was a feature of Brexit because it was agreed by both interested parties (the UK and the EU) from the outset that the land border in the island of Ireland between Ireland (a member state of the EU) and NI (part of the UK) would remain open to unrestricted movement of people and goods.

That meant one of two things:

  • either NI was treated like any other part of the UK, e.g., Dover or Heathrow, in which case there would be no controls at any UK border (air, sea or land);
  • or NI was a special case, and its border would be unlike all other British borders.

Brexit as the British Government defined it, i.e., outside the single market and the customs union, would not be effective in the first case and the integrity of the UK would be undermined in the second case.

Compromise between these two outcomes, a conundrum of almost Belgian proportions, proved politically elusive.  After political convulsions beyond the scope of this article, the UK chose the second option and acknowledged that NI was sui generis among the four British “nations”. The NI Protocol provided that EU single market rules and the ECJ jurisdiction over their interpretation and validity would apply in NI and that goods crossing from the rest of the UK (Great Britain) into NI would be checked if they were likely to move on into Ireland and thus into the EU’s single market and customs union. (I am simplifying deliberately).

For all the identification[2] of England and the UK as an island by the British themselves and many others across the world, in fact neither is an island.  England has land borders with Scotland and Wales, forming Great Britain (GB). The UK comprises GB and NI and so has a land border with another country, Ireland.

The NI Protocol proved unpopular and the UK Government which had approved it soon called for its amendment or even abandonment, threatening to legislate to “disapply” it despite its status as an international agreement.

It has now been supplemented by the Windsor Framework which introduces a number of new features[3]:

  • Green and red channels denoting ease of passage between GB and NI depending on whether goods are for NI alone or onward passage to Ireland.
  • A Stormont brake procedure, echoing emergency brakes developed in EU JHA law, whereby a qualified majority of the NI Assembly (the regional Parliament sitting in Stormont Castle in Belfast) can object to a proposed EU single market measure by triggering a process involving the UK authorities in London which take up the matter with the EU institutions in Brussels. The unspoken hope is that this process will exert discipline on all concerned and rarely if ever be pursued to the bitter end. It also has the advantage of requiring NI institutions to function; at present they do not, since the Democratic Unionist Party has withdrawn its representatives, leading to the resumption of direct rule from London.


What are the implications for the UK-EU relationship?

In a quieter, more constructive atmosphere, opportunities to cooperate (e.g., the Horizon research programme, the memorandum of understanding on financial regulation) are available and could be low-hanging fruit. Possible sources of friction are also numerous and could be stirred up deliberately or stumbled upon accidentally (e.g., illegal immigration, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights). One hopes that major common geopolitical and other challenges will drive the two sides closer together.

In Northern Ireland itself there is the prospect of a return to stable regional government and a visit by the US President to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ground-breaking Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. In cross-Channel and transatlantic relations, politics can resume their usual rocky path, without unedifying spectacles such as a British Prime Minister denigrating vulgarly two usually firm friends of his party (“f*ck business”, “f*ck the Americans”).

The Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian war on Ukraine have blurred the consequences of Brexit, giving rise to inconclusive debates about causes and effects. Thus, the long queues at Dover formed by coaches taking schoolchildren to France for their Easter holidays were blamed variously on poor weather and the number of coaches trying to cross the Channel. Both might have been predicted. Equally foreseeable was the fact that post-Brexit stamping of British passports by French officials would take longer than the cursory glance[4] they gave them previously. Nevertheless, the British Home Secretary denied any link with Brexit. Until politicians are prepared to face reality and explain it to the public, the cycle of recrimination and resentment will continue. It is time for grown-up discussion to replace lies and deceit.


[1] The British Government describes it as “an international arrangement…. under which the parties commit to binding international legal obligations”.

[2] See Faull,

[3] For texts and summaries, see


[4] Once known as the “Bangemann wave”.


(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)