The interannual variability of the stratospheric winter polar vortex is correlated with the phase of the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) of tropical stratospheric winds. This dynamical coupling between high and low latitudes, often referred to as the Holton–Tan effect, has been the subject of numerous observational and modelling studies, yet important questions regarding its mechanism remain unanswered. In particular it remains unclear which vertical levels of the QBO exert the strongest influence on the winter polar vortex, and how QBO–vortex coupling interacts with the effects of other sources of atmospheric interannual variability such as the 11-year solar cycle or the El Niño Southern Oscillation. As stratosphere-resolving general circulation models begin to resolve the QBO and represent its teleconnections with other parts of the climate system, it seems timely to summarize what is currently known about the QBO's high-latitude influence. In this review article, we offer a synthesis of the modelling and observational analyses of QBO–vortex coupling that have appeared in the literature, and update the observational record.