By Dame Priti Patel
Windsor Framework Concerns Remain Unresolved
Back in March I was one of the MPs who voted against the Windsor Framework in the House of Commons. Rebelling against the party line is never an easy decision to take, but the Framework posed a risk to the integrity of our United Kingdom. The internal market between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is of fundamental importance to businesses and communities on both sides of the Irish Sea and the Framework put that at risk and was a missed opportunity. The fact that problems and concerns still persist since the Framework was implemented shows that the deal agreed was sub-optimal and the Government must look to review it again.
When the UK left the EU to deliver the outcome of the Brexit referendum, so that the years of dither and delay could be overcome, the Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed. It was always a compromise that I and many others were deeply uncomfortable with, but it was always meant to be reviewed and changed. It was a temporary measure to support our departure from the EU while recognising that further work was needed to address concerns specific to Northern Ireland and the unique situation with the land border to the EU.
Our commitment to Northern Ireland and its future was made clear in our successful 2019 manifesto, with a clear promise to secure the full economic benefits of Brexit, that would include full access to the new free trade agreements with other countries. The manifesto also pledged to “ensure that Northern Ireland’s businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of the UK and that in the implementation of our Brexit deal, we maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market.”
For me, as a Conservative and Unionist, maintaining the integrity of the internal market should have been a red line in negotiations with the EU and while the Windsor Framework does improve the situation with some goods facing fewer barriers, the flow of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is still being disrupted. Northern Ireland also faces the ongoing imposition of EU rules affecting certain parts of its economy, which undermines democracy.
Many others hold concerns with the Windsor Framework and the way it has been implemented. In the summer a House of Lords Committee reviewing the implementation of the Windsor Framework raised concerns about the impact on trade where goods needed to go through the ‘red lane’, the complexity of regulation for business to understand and a range of other risks.
While both the UK Government and the EU have so far shown little interest in reopening the Windsor Framework, the economic pressures of friction to trade and the political need to get the Northern Ireland Assembly up and running again should move this up their list of priorities. Government satisfaction with the limited progress the Windsor Framework has made should not act as a block to seeking further progress to fully deliver our 2019 manifesto commitment and the promises made to Northern Ireland.
No business should face a barrier or restriction to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and more work is needed to achieve this outcome. Technology, common sense and a dose of good faith should be at the forefront of the solutions needed to remove these barriers and put an end to the tentacles of EU control over Northern Ireland. The Government needs to act and the Conservative Party’s manifesto at the next General Election must reaffirm our commitment to Northern Ireland and the importance of securing the integrity of the internal market within the UK.
Dame Priti Patel is a Conservative MP who has served in a number of positions in Government, including as Home Secretary between 2019-2022 in Boris Johnson’s Government.