The Windsor framework deal, which aims to resolve the ongoing dispute between the EU and the UK over the Northern Ireland protocol, has led to the introduction of “not for EU” labels on food products sold in Northern Ireland. This serves as a clear indication to consumers of the changes resulting from the deal. Asda has become the first supermarket to change its packaging in line with the new labelling requirements, with own-brand meat products now featuring the “not for EU” labels.
Starting from October, businesses will be required to use these labels on all meat and certain dairy products transported to Northern Ireland. The scheme will then be rolled out to the rest of the UK in two further phases by July 2025. The introduction of these labels is part of the Northern Ireland retail movement scheme, which allows pre-packaged retail goods, including meat and fresh produce, to be transported from Britain to Northern Ireland through a designated “green lane”. The aim is to prevent these goods from being moved onwards into the EU, particularly the Republic of Ireland.
Under the previous Northern Ireland protocol, agreed upon in 2019, Northern Ireland remained within the EU’s single market for goods. This resulted in an open trade border on the island of Ireland but created a sea border between Britain and Northern Ireland, making trade more complex and costly. Products entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK were subject to checks and controls, leading to political instability and protests from the Democratic Unionist Party.
Retailers, including the chair of Marks & Spencer, have criticized the Northern Ireland protocol for its bureaucratic nature and perceived lack of purpose. However, some supermarkets, including M&S, have also urged the British government not to introduce separate labelling for goods sold in Northern Ireland, as this would increase costs for both retailers and customers.
Concerns have been raised by retailers regarding the limited time given to businesses to prepare for the new labelling requirements. It is possible that not all companies will be able to comply with the rules when they come into effect in October. In response, the UK government has indicated that it may not fully enforce the new rules during the initial period after their introduction. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has stated that procedures will be in place to ensure authorized food traders can still benefit from the “green lane” between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Overall, the introduction of “not for EU” labels on food products sold in Northern Ireland is a significant development resulting from the Windsor framework deal. It represents a tangible change for consumers and businesses alike, as the UK and the EU continue to navigate the complexities of post-Brexit arrangements.