Devolved institutions deal announced

On 30 January the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) endorsed a deal proposed by the UK Government to restore the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.

These institutions have not been fully functioning since February 2022 when the DUP First Minister resigned, citing concerns about the Northern Ireland Protocol.

On 31 January details of the proposed deal were published in a Command Paper: ‘Safeguarding the Union’.

Statutory instruments to implement the deal

Two statutory instruments (SIs) were also published that will implement parts of the proposals:

On 1 February the House of Commons will be asked to approve these SIs following a 90-minute debate. As these SIs have been laid under the draft affirmative procedure they cannot be made (signed by a Minister) and enter into force unless approved by both Houses of Parliament. The House of Lords have proposed debating the SIs on 13 February.

The Shadow Secretary of State, Hilary Benn, stated in response to Mr Heaton-Harris’ statement that the Labour Party would vote to pass the two SIs being debated on 1 February.

Will there be future legislation?

The Government also published a draft SI for consultation (PDF), that if passed, would mean rules that require certain goods sold in Northern Ireland to carry a ‘not-for-EU’ label be extended to Great Britain also (from October 2024).

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, confirmed during an oral statement to the House of Commons on the deal, that other proposals in the Command Paper, for example the proposed ‘UK Internal Market Lane’ for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, will require further legislation.

What are the main proposals in the new devolved deal?

Some of the significant changes that will be implemented by the new devolution deal announced by the Government include:

Changes to the movement of goods and the UK’s internal market

  • A new legal duty for ministers when introducing primary legislation to consider whether it would affect trade between Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK because it would diverge from EU rules as applicable in Northern Ireland
  • New legislation (PDF) preventing UK Governments from entering new agreements with the EU that supersede all or parts of the current Protocol and that would create new regulatory barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland (this does not affect new EU laws being applied to Northern Ireland under the existing Protocol)
  • Changes to the UK Internal Market Act (IMA), which reinforce the policy of unfettered access of qualifying Northern Ireland goods to the Great Britain market
  • Tightening the definition of Qualifying Northern Ireland Goods under the IMA, to try to ensure only Northern Ireland traders benefit from unfettered access to Great Britain, and not those just re-routing goods through Northern Ireland to avoid border checks
  • Proposed changes (yet to be detailed) turning the ‘green lane’ for goods in Northern Ireland into an ‘internal market system’ that the Government says will reduce “burdens and formalities”. In particular, the Government is seeking EU agreement to expand the list of agri-food products from outside the UK and the EU that can enter Northern Ireland from Great Britain via this ‘lane’
  • A consultation on proposed legislation to extend the ‘not for EU’ labelling systems for certain goods sold in Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK
  • Establishing a new body IntertradeUK, to promote trade within the UK

Changes relating to Northern Ireland’s constitutional position and how the devolved institutions assent to relevant new EU legislation

  • Amending the part of the 2018 EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 that provides the legal mechanism through which certain EU laws are given legal effect in the UK, to make reference to the Democratic Consent and Stormont Brake procedures set out in the Northern Ireland Protocol/Windsor Framework
  • Enshrining in law the UK government’s commitment to conduct an independent review after a Democratic Consent vote, if democratic consent for continuation of Northern Ireland alignment with EU rules on goods is obtained by a majority of Assembly members voting but not with cross-community support.
  • Establishing a new East-West Council, a forum for representatives from government, business and the education sector from Northern Ireland and Great Britain, to “identify opportunities for deepening connections between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK in areas such as trade, transport, education and culture”.

Other proposals

  • Complete the devolution of Corporation Tax to Northern Ireland, which has “stalled” despite commitments made in the 2014 Stormont House and 2015 Fresh Start agreements
  • Although it does not form part of the Command Paper, a financial package was outlined by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in a statement on 20 December 2023, that he said was “worth an excess of £3bn”.

More information on the new devolved deal

The new agreement

Recent developments in Northern Ireland

Windsor Framework

Northern Ireland Protocol