Former DUP leader accuses EU of ‘irrational political prejudice’

Peter Robinson says commission must ‘go back to the drawing board’ over NI Protocol

Former DUP leader and Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Former DUP leader and Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Former Stormont first minister Peter Robinson has accused the EU of “irrational political prejudice” and warned that it must “go back to the drawing board” over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The ex-DUP leader described reforms to the post-Brexit arrangements outlined by European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic on Wednesday as an “upgrade” but insisted “much more movement will be required” to bring unionists on board.

He suggested triggering the contentious Article 16 of the protocol - which allows the EU or UK to unilaterally suspend aspects of its operations if either side considers them to be causing “economic, societal or environmental difficulties” - may be necessary “to achieve that goal”.

Mr Robinson also accuses the SDLP, Alliance and Sinn Féin of a “grovelling endorsement” of the EU’s proposed reforms, which would scrap most checks on goods moving between Britain and the North.

The de facto Irish Sea border was erected under the protocol, agreed by London and Brussels, to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and protect the EU single market after the UK pulled out of the bloc.

“What gets me most is the irrational political prejudice and overbearing haughtiness of the EU, who think that it is a greater priority to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland than between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom of which we are part,” Mr Robinson wrote in his weekly column for The Newsletter.

Favoured by nationalists

He alleged that Mr Sefcovic was only interested in protecting gains from the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement which are favoured by nationalists. The 1998 peace deal was “damaging” and “it is heresy for any unionist, especially with the benefit of hindsight, to praise” it, he wrote.

Mr Robinson said the agreement “threw the jail gates open for terrorists to flood out, destroyed the RUC, allowed Sinn Féin into government while republicans held on to their bombs and guns, continued murdering, relentlessly persisted with their criminality, while refusing to support the police or recognise the authority of the courts”.

He said he was “unimpressed” by the SDLP, Sinn Féin and the Alliance party offering a “grovelling endorsement of the EU proposals”.

“These parties welcomed the protocol in its original form and there would have been no change if it had been left to them,” he wrote.

“They are content to maintain the denial of democratic accountability for laws that will be made by the EU and imposed in Northern Ireland. They accept that the EU should be both advocate and judge in its own cause when there is a dispute about trading matters.

‘Sleight of hand’

“They endorse the constitutional sleight of hand that declares Great Britain to be a ‘third country’ in relation to Northern Ireland trade and they applaud maintaining checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.”

Mr Robinson said the EU was also completely ignoring “ the constitutional, legal, and democratic implications of the protocol and seems to think it is only the trading element of the protocol that needs to be considered.”

“Even in that narrow perspective they fall short. If the problem was limited to the costly compliance requirements and time-consuming checking of goods within the United Kingdom the answer is the removal of those checks, not a reduction in their number,” he wrote.

Reacting to Mr Robinson’s comments about the Belfast Agreement, Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Friday said: “I am surprised at that language but I haven’t heard that sentiment.

“I met with all of the political parties last Friday, all of them articulated to me a desire to maintain the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, the Assembly and the Executive to ensure the continuation of political stability.”

Mr Martin also defended the latest set of proposals from Mr Sefcovic and the EU, pointing out that Mr Sefcovic had very carefully and very deliberately gone to Northern Ireland to hear from all shades of political opinion there before coming up with his latest proposals.

“First of all,Maros Sefcovic went to the North, he met with all the political parties and he met with all of the representatives of business and industry in Northern Ireland and he listened at first hand. I would have met him before he went to the North, his objectives are genuine and sincere in trying to make the protocol work for all of the people of Northern Ireland,” said Mr Martin.

Mr Martin said he recalled a conversation with Mr Robinson some years ago when Mr Robinson lamented the fact that Northern Ireland did not have the equivalent of the IDA to attract in foreign investment as the agency was doing in the Republic.

“I believe having access to the Single European Market is a huge advantage to jobs and to business and to industry in Northern Ireland and the measures brought forward by the commission this week through Maros Sefcovic really advance that agenda in terms of inward investment into the North but also allowing businesses in the North to grow through exports to the European Union market,” said Mr Martin.