Well, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has brokered a UK-EU agreement intended to make trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland flow more easily. The food and drink industry’s representatives have been understandably cautious.
For instance, The Provision Trade Federation described it as “positive news” while the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said “any deal to improve the movement of goods is welcome”.
The Windsor Framework, signed off yesterday (27 February) by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, will replace the Northern Ireland Protocol, part of the Brexit arrangement that effectively meant the province remained part of the European Union for trading purposes.
Rupert Ashby, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation, said he, too, welcomed the conclusion of the negotiations between the UK Government and European Commission. He called the settlement reached on the Northern Ireland Protocol is good news for businesses throughout the frozen food supply chain which are looking forward to more efficient trade relations within the UK and to the EU.
“For frozen food producers, distributors and retailers which have faced difficulties since the Withdrawal Agreement, this marks the beginning of a positive new chapter,” Ashby concluded.
The Protocol has led to great uncertainty, frequent disruption, and hugely increased bureaucratic burden and expense. That written, there is genuine surprise about what has been unveiled. The announcement has also been welcomed by staunch Brexiteers and it appears Sunak’s opponents are moving behind the Prime Minister.
As Cold Chain Federation chief executive Shane Brennan said it is a “step towards a much more efficient and sustainable system with the potential to remove most of the current practical problems, which will be better for consumers and businesses alike”.
There are important details that the Government will need to get right, such as paperwork requirements for the green lane and support for businesses in transitioning to the new systems. There is also the chance of a rebellion in the Conservative party, albeit small.
The expectation is that trade will become easier between the UK and Northern Ireland and that some of the existing schemes based around tariffs will be extended and move into the regulatory space such as the green lanes. It sounds like there will be progress on VAT and UK VAT rules will apply in Northern Ireland. There are also some positive signs on subsidy. Will it all be enough?
The Windsor Framework announcement is a long-awaited milestone towards allowing the food and drink industry to move forward. Time will tell how all that Prime Sunak has proposed as the documents will be analysed page by page, letter by letter. This will be a start of a new chapter between the UK and the EU even though it’s an evolving situation.
- Rodney Jack, editor, Food & Drink Technology.
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