Northern Ireland news

Peter Robinson believes British government will put 'best interests of English Tories' ahead of north

Peter Robinson said he is concerned that the north faces an economic downturn on par with the crash of 2008. Picture by Queen's University Belfast/PA Wire

PETER Robinson believes the British government will put the "best interests of English Tories" ahead of any concern for Northern Ireland in its Brexit negotiations with the EU.

The former DUP leader warned of "dark times" ahead and said he is concerned that the north faces an economic downturn on par with the crash of 2008.

In an interview with a partner from a law firm with an office in Belfast, the former first minister criticised the EU for failing to give David Cameron a worthwhile deal ahead of the 2016 referendum.

However, he believes the break from Brussels that the DUP supported so vociferously is damaging the unionist cause.

"I don't think that anybody looking at the situation now will think that the union is stronger because of Brexit," he said.

The one-time MP, MLA and Castlereagh councillor spoke of a likely "unique relationship with the EU" and how that may re-orient business away from Britain.

"If that is going to cost us – and this is just Peter the pragmatist talking – in terms of regulation with the UK, we've got to get some upside out of it.

"Clearly, Europe must be one of our target markets and they may well be better disposed to us than the rest of the UK."

However, Mr Robinson said he didn't anticipate a "Northern Ireland-friendly outcome" to the Brexit negotiations, claiming the region's interests would not be a priority for the British government.

"I take the traditional unionist position based on hard experience that at the centre of those negotiations will be not what's in the best interest of Northern Ireland but what's in the best interests of English Tories," he said.

The former East Belfast MP said agreement with the EU would be better than no deal but an outcome that "disadvantages" the north would inflict "further economic catastrophe".

He said he was "not terribly optimistic" of a deal that was advantageous to Northern Ireland and that he accepted "we are headed for every dark times economically".

The former DUP leader added that he had no intention of criticising his successor Arlene Foster in his fortnightly column in the News Letter.

"I think it is important that your successor doesn't have somebody sitting on their shoulder giving a critique of every action they take."

He also told how sport had helped him bond with the late Martin McGuinness while the two were in office.

"Looking back I think it probably would have been difficult to have had that working relationship with many others in Sinn Féin but that common feature of sport I think it helped us through a difficult situation," he told Shoosmiths partner Stephen Dawson.

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