DUP should have displayed ‘cautious realism’ over Stormont deal – Robinson

New Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Gavin Robinson has accepted his party oversold the deal to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland – stating there was a need for more “cautious realism” at the time.

Mr Robinson insisted that progress had been made in the Safeguarding the Union Command Paper, but added there is still work to be done over the so-called Irish Sea trading border.

Mr Robinson will lead the DUP into the General Election after he was ratified as the new leader at a party meeting in Lisburn on Wednesday night.

He replaced Sir Jeffrey Donaldson who resigned as leader after he was charged with a number of historical sex offences; charges he has indicated he will contest.

The DUP ended its two-year boycott of devolved government in Northern Ireland in February after striking a deal with the Government on post-Brexit arrangements.

Donaldson made the decision to return his party to Stormont based on a package of proposals aimed at reducing red tape on Irish Sea trade and providing assurances over Northern Ireland’s place in the union.

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Gavin Robinson speaking during a DUP meeting in Lisburn (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

The former leader had said the Irish Sea border had effectively been removed.

However, a significant minority of DUP elected representatives remain opposed to the deal, insisting it did not go far enough.

During his speech in Lisburn on Wednesday, Mr Robinson pledged to “continue to fight” against an Irish Sea border.

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TUV leader Jim Allister said he had insisted all along that the Irish Sea border had not been removed (Liam McBurney/PA)

During an appearance on the BBC Nolan Show on Thursday morning, Mr Robinson was asked several times if his party had over-sold the deal which led to the restoration of the powersharing Executive.

He said: “What I said last night was there was probably a need for more cautious realism at the time, but I stand over what I said at the time. I stand over the positions that I took.”

Asked again if his party had oversold the deal, Mr Robinson said: “Yes, there should have been more cautious realism.”

During an appearance on the BBC Good Morning Ulster programme, Mr Robinson insisted that enough progress had been made on post-Brexit trading issues to allow Stormont to return earlier this year.

He said: “What I am saying as the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party with the support of all of my colleagues and with so much support in the room last night is that we are clear in our objectives, those objectives continue, we have made significant progress and we will never shy away from having made that progress.”

Mr Robinson added: “I will say very clearly to people that great progress was made, and more importantly, sufficient progress made to see the restoration of devolution and that is working for people in Northern Ireland.

“There is still work to do to undo the totality of the harm foisted upon us by a London Government and by a national parliament that ignored the concerns of unionists.”

Other unionist leaders have accused Mr Robinson of backsliding on his previous position.

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie told the BBC that it was clear the DUP had changed direction.

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said his party had insisted all along that the Irish Sea border had not been removed.

He added: “What matters is not the DUP’s latest spin on its Donaldson Deal, as it pivots in circles, but the substance of their deal which carries Gavin Robinson’s indelible fingerprints.

“None of the substance of their deal has changed.”