Peter Robinson: a deal must be done by New Year - and the DUP's seven tests are the 'goal'
The former first minister has set out to the News Letter the tests he believes must be met before the DUP return to government.
He has also hit out at critics who he says offer no alternatives to the current strategy of his former party.
Robinson says the two key areas the DUP must secure progress on are the future of the union – and whether any arrangements undermine it, as well as free trade between NI and GB and vice versa.
On Times Radio on Tuesday, Mr Robinson had also said that Northern Ireland “could have virtually the best of both worlds with having access in a seamless way, both to the UK market and the European market”.
Critics of those who support a ‘best of both worlds’ strategy have said that is not possible without the continuation of EU law. The former First Minister says access to both markets depends on the outcome of any negotiations. When asked by the News Letter if NI remaining under EU regulations undermines his key test of securing the future of the union he said: “Who has primacy is the issue. The biggest issue is - we have been under EU regulations. The whole of the UK was under EU regulations. The issue is how much will we be under EU regulations if they change from here on in. That's the issue.”
He was asked how that wasn’t a different scenario – given that the entire UK was under those regulations. “Yes absolutely. But what regulations have changed since? Have you noticed some change?”
Robinson says that divergence is a risk and suggests that’s one that the DUP will be looking at. “Future divergence from European regulations separating us from the rest of the United kingdom - that's the issue that needs to be resolved. I'm not going to go into the detail of it, because it's not my role to do so. But it's one of the issues that has to be resolved”.
He says the DUP’s seven tests are “unquestionably the goal for unionists. Those have to be the areas the negotiating team is concentrating on. It’s not for me to go into the detail of all of those, I’ve given advice along with the panel that consulted widely. We took opinion from across the community and it was judged that the framework document did not do that. So those are the gaps that have to be plugged.”
Robinson – along with former First Minister Arlene Foster and other party grandees – was part of an eight person panel which held a review into the Windsor Framework. He said the panel believed that the deal didn’t deliver on sovereignty and free trade and suggested that any final deal would be consulted on from the leadership down to party members.
It would become transparent during the process of negotiations whether what the government is offering is enough, he said. “Before the turn of the year will be the key deadline. The government have to give something substantial to sell to the unionist community.”
He continued: “You have to look at how best you protect the union. How best you protect the economy of Northern Ireland and its principle economic relationship - which is with the rest of the UK. Those are the priorities. Once you do that, then it's a matter for politicians to get the best possible deal that they can on all of the other issues.”
Robinson suggested that the critics of a deal had no real alternatives. “The only two alternatives that I hear are: don't do anything and just hold out until they change. And you can dream I suppose as long as you want on that. The other alternative is that Labour will ride in and save us. If anyone believes that they are in a serious mental position.”
TUV leader Jim Allister blasted Robinson’s earlier comments on Times Radio. “Anyone parroting the pro-Protocol propaganda of ‘the best of both worlds’ either doesn’t understand, or is prepared to ignore, the legal imperative that to have Protocol-style access to the EU market you must submit yourself to the full rigour of EU law and thereby accept the essence of colonial rule. And, under the Protocol you must accept EU control of your borders, including dictation of what and how goods can flow from GB to NI.”