Expert Opinion

ESSNA Insights: Navigating the EU-UK regulatory divergence

By Luca Bucchini

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | CharlieAJA
Getty | CharlieAJA

Related tags Regulation Sports nutrition

Since Brexit and the subsequent EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) in January 2021, UK’s departure from the EU has caused significant challenges for the sports and active nutrition sector and the wider food industry, bringing important regulatory and trade changes.

This summer, the UK saw some developments in the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland with policymakers looking at how to ensure as little disruption as possible to the EU-UK economic relationship. Here’s what sports foods businesses need to know.

What is the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, commonly referred to as the Northern Ireland Protocol, is part of the EU-UK withdrawal agreement ensuring that a hard border is avoided on the island of Ireland after the UK formally left the EU. Taking into account Ireland’s unique circumstances, it aims to protect the all-island economy and safeguard the integrity of the EU single market.

In February 2023, the UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, unveiled the Windsor Framework, a new agreement to change the way the Northern Ireland Protocol operates, which was formally adopted the following month. The Framework foresees reduced regulatory checks for products entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Benefits of the Framework include the introduction of green lanes for products including retail goods and agri-food produce to enable easier movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The green lane requires only a “not for EU” label to be displayed on the products, and a certificate per lorry stating that the goods are staying in NI and comply with the UK internal market scheme.

The latest developments

The UK Foreign Secretary has recently announced that food products sold across the UK will have to carry the “not for EU” label. The Government is justifying this based on the need to preserve the UK internal market by avoiding the introduction of requirements on products only aimed for NI. Food businesses have opposed this measure arguing that it will result in extra cost at a time when food prices are skyrocketing.

Meanwhile, the House of Lords Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland published​ a report focusing on the economic, political, legal and constitutional implications of the Windsor Framework on Northern Ireland. The report acknowledged that for some businesses the Framework will be more burdensome than the Protocol, as it has operated with grace periods and easements.

It also stressed that, while green lanes will benefit large retailers, some smaller retailers and other sectors that will not be able to meet the green lane's requirements are likely to use the red lane, through which goods are subject to full controls and checks. This will be the case for some agri-food products, goods for manufacturing, and goods where there is any uncertainty over the end destination.

Business representatives that fed into the report emphasised that the regulatory divergence between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or between Northern Ireland and Ireland (and the EU as a whole), remains of key concern. The Committee called on the Government to address remaining unresolved problems, including the requirement for labels on foods destined to remain only in Northern Ireland and the need to provide a clear summary of the practical implications of the Framework.

Another key development that is related to the Framework and that the industry should be aware of is the guidance​ on the Northern Ireland Retail Movement Scheme (NIRMS) that was published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on 28th​ July.

This scheme was introduced to replace the existing Scheme for Temporary Agrifood Movements into Northern Ireland (STAMNI) and will start applying on 1st​ October 2023. Through the new scheme, UK public health and consumer protection standards will apply to all retail food and drink produces moving to Northern Ireland, including rules on marketing, labelling and organic products.

According to DEFRA’s guidance, all businesses responsible for selling or facilitating the movement of food for final consumption in Northern Ireland will be able to register for the NIRMS from 1st​ September. Businesses moving goods under the Scheme will be able to benefit from the new green lane arrangements provided for in the Windsor Framework. This includes retailers selling finished goods to end-consumers and wholesalers supplying smaller retail outlets.

Also, goods will no longer need to be produced to EU public health or consumer protection standards if they are moving to Northen Ireland under the scheme but can be produced to the relevant UK standards. To avoid onward movements of goods into the EU, DEFRA states that proportionate labelling requirements will be applied, which will be introduced on a phased basis.

Brexit has brought a series of challenges for sports foods businesses and the wider food industry on both sides of the Channel, as it has increased uncertainty and supply chain disruptions but, on the other hand, it has also created new policy engagement opportunities for the sector.

Now is the best time for the industry to assist policymakers in understanding the complexities of the food sectors’ supply chain to minimise unnecessary burdens on the industry. It is also a crucial time for organisations to stay up to date on the policy and regulatory developments and engage with both the EU and the UK to ensure as little disruption as possible in their economic relationship.

Sports and active nutrition businesses interested in mitigating the effects of the EU-UK regulatory divergence can get in touch with ESSNA via

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