Peter Robinson: DUP should stay out of Stormont until protocol bill is fully enacted

The former first minister of Northern Ireland gives his reaction to the government’s legislation to overhaul the Irish Sea border:

By Peter Robinson
Tuesday, 14th June 2022, 6:41 am
Updated Tuesday, 14th June 2022, 8:06 am
Peter Robinson, a former first minister and DUP leader, says: ‘I can understand why Sinn Fein and the SDLP are  angry – they thought they had strengthened the all-Ireland axis. It is harder to rationalise the position of Alliance who claim they are not actively supporting a united Ireland’
Peter Robinson, a former first minister and DUP leader, says: ‘I can understand why Sinn Fein and the SDLP are angry – they thought they had strengthened the all-Ireland axis. It is harder to rationalise the position of Alliance who claim they are not actively supporting a united Ireland’

• Scroll down for a News Letter editorial on the new bill

The Protocol Bill is a complex piece of legislation and does not represent a perfect outcome for unionism.

Is it better than what presently exists?

If Westminster delays the passage of the bill then any future delay in getting the assembly functioning again would then be its responsibility

Of course it is — it is manifestly better, if it is delivered and its provisions implemented without dilution.

We should never make perfection the enemy of the good.

The alternative to this bill does not lead to a better option it only leads to more of the disastrous protocol that presently endures.

Unionism should look at this as significant progress, providing the bill is fully enacted. The bill might look very different if we had been drafting it but all our concerns need not be addressed on one visit to the table.

The DUP should remain outside the executive until the bill is delivered. However, if delivered in a satisfactory form, there should be a clear understanding that it will enter the executive and play a full part in the governance of Northern Ireland.

Such a declaration from the DUP supports the basis upon which the government is moving forward and making progress. It is difficult for them to argue that the legal basis upon which they are setting aside elements of the protocol is grounded upon the principle of ‘necessity’ to restore devolution in Northern Ireland if there is doubt about the willingness of the DUP to return to Stormont if the bill’s provisions are fulfilled.

This is not a concession; it is the party’s stated position. Any future delay in getting the assembly functioning again would then be the responsibility of Westminster if it delays the passage of the bill. We all know just how fast Parliament can dispose of legislation when it wants to do so.

Sometimes it is hard to understand why some people and organisations take up the position they do on key political events. I can understand some of the reaction to the publication of the government’s protocol bill others are self-destructive and baffling.

The EU have been sulking and displaying all the vindictiveness of a scorned and rejected partner and their opposition while disappointing and immature can be understood. The EU’s blinkered and one-sided strategy has been causing major disruption in Northern Ireland and their refusal to consider the fundamental changes necessary to gain cross-community support in Northern Ireland exposes the vengeful and malevolent intent of the EU.

The government in the Irish Republic have perhaps most to lose as they had been benefiting from the significant displacement of trade away from Great Britain into their jurisdiction. So while contrary to the stated intention of the EU, the Republic profiting from Northern Ireland’s woes can be understood – though it does them no credit. The Republic have done immense damage to their credibility and relationship with the unionist community in Northern Ireland.

I can naturally understand why Sinn Fein and the SDLP are foaming at the mouth – they support a united Ireland. They thought they had strengthened the all-Ireland axis and weakened the Union with Great Britain.

Their opposition demonstrates it is not what is in the best interests of the people living here that motivates them but rather that belligerent nationalism that trumps the economic advantage that could be derived from unencumbered assess to both the Great Britain and EU markets.

It is harder to rationalise the position of the Alliance Party who claim they are not actively supporting a united Ireland but have hitched their wagon to the Sinn Fein and the SDLP drive to undermine the Union. They and some who claim to speak for the business community will, in the days ahead, have to explain why they want to reject a ‘best of both worlds’ approach to economic activity.

I simply cannot start to understand why those who claim their key interest is business and economic progress would be attacking a proposal that sets Northern Ireland uniquely as a place which can freely trade with two massive markets. Having uninterrupted access to both the GB and EU market will attract businesses to our shores and lead to more jobs and greater prosperity. It is a gift to Invest NI.

Finally, it is up to the government to see the bill is passed and its provisions implemented. As it is only the DUP’s refusal to enter the executive until this issue is resolved that has provided the necessary movement and momentum, the party must act with caution and certainty.

Caution to ensure that the intentions of the bill are fully discharged first, and certainty about the party’s willingness to response positively and without delay if it is.

The bill may not be ideal, but it represents a worthwhile first step and an important opportunity.

Unionism will not make progress by staying where it is.

Peter Robinson is a former DUP leader and first minister of Northern Ireland