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Rishi Sunak’s Windsor Framework has now been voted through parliament

The government has “majorly oversold” the benefits of its new Brexit deal for trade with Northern Ireland, senior industry sources have claimed.

The UK government had “oversold the promise of what the Windsor Framework does”, said Shane Brennan, CEO of the Cold Chain Federation, adding it was “definitely all unravelling” as the industry tried to understand what the new rules will mean.

Rishi Sunak’s Windsor Framework deal centres on a ‘green lane’ and ‘red lane’ model, in which British goods intended to stay in Northern Ireland will use a fast-tracked ‘green’ lane, while goods headed to the EU’s single market will use a ‘red’ lane for more thorough checks.

In the green lane, each lorry will require just a single general certificate for its entire content, including mixed loads made up of different types of products from numerous suppliers.

But Brennan said this would be “very difficult” in practice.

“As we start to interpret the legal rules and what they actually mean in practice, I think there are major limits to the green lane, especially for mixed load and mixed customer haulage – it’s going to be very difficult for groupage.

“It’s a permanent reporting and accountability burden that is a barrier to trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.” 

At a glance: the key points behind the new Northern Ireland Brexit deal

Several GB-based food businesses have already abandoned trade with Northern Ireland over how cumbersome it was proving to trade in the region under the previous rules, which saw NI technically abide by the same EU rules as its southern neighbour in order to avoid a hard land border.

But The Grocer understands there have also been “conflicting” messages coming from the government regarding some of the bureaucratic requirements for British goods crossing the Irish Sea border – even as the Windsor Framework has attempted to address some of the previous protocol shortcomings.

Traders have been told by the UK government that they will not need “any more of those pesky commodity codes”, one customs source said. However, the EU has remained adamant that goods entering the island of Ireland will continue to require commodity codes.

“That would be a major breach of faith on what we’ve been told up to now,” Brennan said.

The Windsor Framework agreement, which replaces the controversial Northern Ireland protocol signed by former PM Boris Johnson, is set to start rolling out this year after Sunak secured enough support from MPs in a parliament vote on Wednesday (22 March).

Johnson and fellow ex-PM Liz Truss led a revolt that saw 22 Conservative backbenchers vote against the deal, along with MPs for Northern Ireland’s DUP.

Still, Sunak garnered the support of 515 MPs including the backing of other Tories, Labour and the SNP.