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Government Warned "Bonfire" Of EU Laws Could Clash With Windsor Framework

4 min read

Rishi Sunak's landmark Northern Ireland Protocol deal, the 'Windsor framework', is now facing growing concern that its success could be threatened by the government’s decision to push ahead with its controversial Retained EU Law bill.

On Monday, the Prime Minister announced he had struck a new deal with the EU in Windsor on trade arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – ending years of often fraught negotiations with the bloc on the issue.

Renamed the 'Windsor framework', the arrangement will see a reduction in border checks of goods flowing across the Irish sea, as well as a curtailment of the influence of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

However, there are concerns that the framework, which has generally been warmly received by Westminster, could encounter some issues.

Shadow cabinet minister Baroness Jenny Chapman has told PoliticsHome that the ongoing lack of functioning government in Northern Ireland and the sunset clause in the in the Retained EU Law bill set for the end of this year, could mean “important provisions may not appear on the government's dashboard” in time.

The bill will see around 4,000 pieces of UK law derived from EU law expire from the statute books by 2024 unless the government chooses to retain it. In the meantime, government must seek to review, and either revise, replace or retain each law. 

Several leading legal experts have criticised the timeframe arguing it is not practical to sift through so much legislation in such a short period of time, and that it could risk divergence from agreements with the EU in areas like farming or safety standards. Supporters of the legislation – which was introduced by Liz Truss – argue that expediting the changes is a key part of signalling that the UK has fully left the EU.

Chapman is set to deliver a speech in the House of Lords later today on an amendment to the Retained EU Law Bill she has proposed. Known as the “sovereignty amendment”, the change would seek to prevent UK law derived from EU legislation disappearing by accident at the end of the year. She is expected to tell peers that it is "a common sense amendment that respects the sovereignty of Parliament”.

“The government isn't being specific about what it wants to do in the run up to the end of the year when the sunset clause comes into force,” said Chapman.

“The concern we've got is that because there isn't a functioning assembly in Northern Ireland, that some important provisions may not appear on the government's dashboard - which is growing all the tim

“There are going to be things that are not included, and if some of those measures affect strand two obligations [of the Good Friday Agreement] or affect level playing field [commitments with the EU], then it has the potential of causing trade friction in the future.

“And the government just doesn't seem to want to engage with this discussion at all at this stage.”

Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der LeyenFollowing Sunak's announcement of the deal to parliament on Monday, Labour MP Stella Creasy raised the issue of the bill potentially interfering with arrangements with the EU on Northern Ireland and the risks of it triggering a trade war. 

“In order to support what he has presented to the House today, will the Prime Minister confirm that all remaining retained EU legislation will be retained in Northern Ireland itself, using the powers that he has and that Stormont currently cannot exercise?” said Creasy.

“If he does not, how can anybody have confidence that we will avoid the regulatory divergence and that trade war which could undermine everything he has presented today?”

Sunak said that government has committed to protecting against “trade and regulatory divergence” which includes “dialogue with businesses in Northern Ireland and also with the European Union”.

Chapman has said the government should amend the bill to ensure it avoids creating any barriers for the framework. 

“The sensible thing the government could do is change the way the bill works, so that measures can be revoked or rewritten,” said Chapman.

“But the government needs to bring those measures forward and identify them and explain what it is it wants to do - rather than at the moment [where] the default is measures fall, whether or not the government has even noticed they exist, which is just an anarchic and reckless way to govern.”

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