28th February 2023Northern Ireland Trade Deal – 10 key changes to be aware of
Following the Prime Minister’s newly announced trade deal with Northern Ireland, Gerry Myton, Head of Indirect Tax at accountancy firm HW Fisher, shares a summary of the key changes you should be aware of.
Gerry explains: “The Windsor Agreement appears at first read to be a win for the UK Government and for both the business community and people of Northern Ireland. The European Union appears to have been more than reasonable in moving boundaries to facilitate this agreement.”
“There has been significant movement by the EU in areas of customs, VAT, product labelling, the movement of agri/food/plant products to Northern Ireland from Great Britain and the movement of parcels in all scenarios including B2B, B2C and C2C. The EU has agreed to cease legal action against the UK whilst the UK will in return drop the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. Finally, a Stormont Break gives the Northern Ireland assembly a mechanism to stop the application of amendments to or the replacement of EU law as applied to Northern Ireland.”
Key changes to be aware of:
- Simplified rules and procedures for agri-food retail goods – new rules have been agreed for the entry into Northern Ireland (NI) from Great Britain (GB) of certain agri-food retail goods where the goods are sent for final consumption in Northern Ireland. These include the application of UK public health standards which will allow chilled meats, such as sausages, to be moved from GB to NI.
- The movement of plants – a solution has been found to address the movement to NI from GB for certain plants for planting and agricultural or forestry machinery to move to NI based on a special plant health label. For example, seed potatoes should bear a plant health label, be dispatched by authorised operators and be subject to inspection.
- Not for EU labelling updates – this will be introduced to protect the EU Single Market around agri-food retail goods at different levels: individual, box, shelf signs and posters to ensure traceability and inform consumers that those goods are for sale in NI only. For example, from 1 October 2023, prepacked meat and fresh milk will be individually labelled. Goods sold loose need only to be labelled at box level (e.g. apples) and easily visible signs at the point of sale.
- VAT – three noteworthy changes:
- Firstly, the UK can apply reduced VAT rates on goods supplied and installed on immovable property (e.g. a heat pump for a house or a wind turbine on a domestic dwelling) located in Northern Ireland, even if the applicable UK VAT rate is below the EU minimum rate. Other products will also qualify where such products are not at risk of entering the EU.
- Secondly, the UK does not need to apply the special EU VAT scheme for small enterprises in NI commencing on 1 January 2025. This may have been difficult to implement as the Protocol applies to goods and the EU scheme applies to goods and services.
- Thirdly, both the EU and the UK will work to establish a list of goods not at risk of entering the EU and therefore, not subject to EU VAT rules. Expectation is that such goods would remain on the list for 5 years with an option to extend.
- Excise Taxes – both sides have agreed that NI can diverge from EU rules on excise duties and that the UK will be able to tax alcoholic products based on the alcoholic strength subject to excise duty chargeable not falling below the minimum payable in the EU. Given that UK excise duty rates are high compared to the EU, this should not be an issue going forward.
- Travel with pets – a simple pet travel document and a declaration by the owner that the pet will not go to the EU will suffice. Pets from Northern Ireland, moving to Great Britain and then back to Northern Ireland, need only to be identified by a microchip.
- Tariff Quotas– it has been agreed that NI companies will now be able to use the EU’s Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs) for steel, providing access to UK-origin steel. This will avoid having to pay the 25% tariff linked to the EU safeguard measures currently in place for steel imports into the EU. In terms of other commodities, both sides have agreed to work to find a solution for similar issues arising for other commodities.
- State Aid – a Joint Declaration has been agreed setting out a joint understanding of the circumstances in which subsidies granted by UK authorities can affect trade between Northern Ireland and the EU, and which are therefore subject to the Protocol. Both sides appear to agree that EU State aid rules referred to in Article 10(1) are only applicable to subsidies that have a genuine and direct link to Northern Ireland and that the subsidy in question needs to have real foreseeable effects on trade between Northern Ireland and the EU. These effects must be material, rather than hypothetical.
- European Court of Justice – from our reading of the text, there would appear no change in the role of the European Court of Justice of the European Union and the Prime Minister confirmed that in responses to questions in the House of Commons.
The existing structures within the Withdrawal Agreement (the Joint Committee, the Specialised Committee on the Protocol and the Joint Consultative Working Group) will continue to discuss operational issues arising from the Protocol. Added to this dialogue mechanism is a new emergency mechanism referred to as the “Stormont Brake”. The Stormont Brake is a new emergency mechanism that will allow the UK government, at the request of 30 Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, to stop either the amendment or replacement of EU law provisions, that may have a significant and lasting impact specific to the everyday lives of communities in Northern Ireland. This is a measure of last resort and can only be triggered after every other available mechanism has been exhausted.
- On Customs matters, there have been significant amendments: