Policy Year in Review

In a year where trade between the UK and Ireland topped €100bn for the first time, 2023 saw significant progress made in the trading relationship across the two islands.

With the EU and the UK agreeing the framework for the Windsor Protocol in February, aspects of the post Brexit settlement which had been held up have finally began to be untangled and dealt with positively, in specific areas such as Research, Energy and Financial Services.

Upcoming challenges remain, including from the incoming checks on SPS goods entering Great Britain from the EU, which are being phased in over the course of 2024 under the new Border Target Operating Model.

In 2023 the Chamber continued to advocate strongly and engage directly with elected representatives and civil servants at the national level in both countries, as well as with the devolved administrations in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland as well as the city regions on all manner of policy areas important to our members. Below, we detail some of the key policy developments of the year, and some of the positions the Chamber took.

The Windsor Framework

The agreement of the Windsor Framework in February this year was strongly welcomed by the Chamber, especially as it matched the solutions that were put forward by the Chamber in the years prior. The Framework includes a Red-Lane/Green-Lane approach to goods entering Northern Ireland, augmented powers for Stormont, and agreements on Excise, VAT and State Aid, among a raft of measures.

The Windsor Framework alleviates the greatest trade impositions between Northern Ireland and Great Britain which had arisen. Goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain are now to be divided into two separate trading lanes – a Green Lane for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland only and a Red Lane for goods that will move beyond Northern Ireland or are at risk of doing so. Goods that go through the Red Lane will have to adhere to full customs procedures.

In Agri-food, the EU has agreed that UK public health and safety standards will apply to retail food and drink within Northern Ireland. This means if the product is available in Great Britain, then it will be available in supermarkets in Northern Ireland. The bureaucratic burden has significantly been reduced with the use of a single certificate with physical checks to fall to 5% by 2025 when labelling requirements are fully in place. In return, the UK is constructing operational Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Inspection facilities and will provide EU representatives with access to relevant UK IT databases.

The Chamber’s full summary of the key provisions of the framework can be found here.

 

Horizon

The agreement of the Windsor Framework also resulted in the UK rejoining the EU’s Horizon Europe, which multilaterally funds research, under a new bespoke deal as an associate member. The Chamber enthusiastically welcomed the long-awaited agreement between the EU Commission and the UK Government for the UK to associate to Horizon Europe. The strong Irish-UK relationship is built on a shared history, language and culture and the free flow of people and ideas across the sector. In the recent EU R&I Framework programme, Horizon 2020 (H2020), 47% of projects involving Irish organisations (academic and industry) had a UK partner (987 projects out of 2,096 funded).

Furthermore, academic – industry collaboration between the UK and Ireland has been facilitated and supported through Horizon programmes that would not be easily replicated on a bespoke or bilateral basis. Since the 2016 Referendum, the Chamber has advocated for the UK to be granted full associate status to Horizon Europe, the EU’s Flagship €95bn research programme and the Chamber were active leaders in the Stick to Science Campaign. Late last year we ran an event, campaigning for the UK’s return to Horizon which can be viewed here.

Increased Cooperation Across Multiple Sectors

The détente between the EU and the UK following the agreement of the Windsor Framework saw agreements reached for increased cooperation and collaboration in numerous sectors, not least on Horizon as discussed above.

The Specialised Committees of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) are now up and running, and should act as they were intended to, meeting to identify and remedy specific areas which can be improved under the TCA in a depoliticised environment.

2023 saw number of Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) signed, which bodes well for the future relationship between the UK and the EU (and Ireland). In June, an MoU was signed by the UK and the EU on regulatory cooperation on Financial Services. In September the British and Irish Governments signed an MoU on the Energy Transition, to work closely on a path towards decarbonisation and secure, affordable, renewable based energy systems. The UK also signed an MoU with the North Seas Energy Cooperation, agreeing on closer cooperation in the development of renewables in the North Sea.

Continuing Advocacy

The Chamber remains the leading organisation in the UK – Ireland trade space. In 2023, the Chamber held regular engagements with political leaders, committees and representatives from across Ireland and the UK. The executive team has given evidence to the Westminster Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the British Irish Parliamentary Association, the National Economic Dialogue and the Global Ireland Forum.

In August this year, the Chamber submitted our pre-Budget submission to the Irish Government. The submission drew on the views of a large representative number of members through meetings, written inputs and surveys.

In addition to this the Chamber actively participated in numerous Government Consultations from the two Central Governments as well as the devolved regions.

The Chamber has worked to ensure that our members and our sectoral Committees are afforded an opportunity to engage directly with key stakeholders in the UK – Ireland space. This has included interactive discussions and meetings with elected Ministers and Government representatives from across the two islands.

The Chamber remains an active member of the Irish Government’s Brexit Stakeholder Forum and the Customs Consultative Forum. The Chamber attends the EU Commission’s Trade and Cooperation Agreement Domestic Advisory Group which monitors the application of the post-Brexit settlement. The Chamber also holds seats on the Irish Government’s Enterprise Forum, SME and State Bodies Group and Responsible Business Forum.

This year the Chamber hosted discussions for our Members with the leaders of economic development agencies such as Micheal Lohan, CEO of the IDA, Leo Clancy CEO of Enterprise Ireland and Chris Barton, HM Trade Commissioner for Europe. 

With the Brexit impasse in the rear-view mirror at long last, the focus of the Chamber is now firmly on sustaining and growing UK – Ireland trade and investment, a trade now worth in excess of €100bn per annum sustaining 600,000 jobs directly across the UK and Ireland, making Ireland the UK’s 5th biggest trading partner and the UK our 2nd.