Jim Allister: We don't need EU special status
The Irish Republic, not Northern Ireland, should be seeking special EU status post-Brexit, the leader of the TUV has said.
Jim Allister branded as "foolish" nationalist calls for Northern Ireland to secure a special EU designation after the UK leaves the EU but he said it might make sense for the Republic of Ireland.
Launching his party's Assembly election manifesto, Mr Allister predicted a "glorious" future for the UK outside the European Union and said people south of the border may be tempted to follow its lead.
But, while the Republic remained in the EU, the Eurosceptic said the Dublin government should press for special status to enable the country to strike separate trade deals with the UK.
"Brexit is a glorious opportunity," he said.
"It liberates us from the restraints, the shackles of Brussels. It sets our vision on the growth parts of the world, rather than tying us to the moribund EU economy.
"I do think that in time, as Brexit proves to be the success that it will be, that our neighbours, though it will be a matter entirely for them, will come to see the wisdom of following us out of the EU and pursuing growth in parts of the world where the trade now is."
Mr Allister rubbished the notion of Northern Ireland retaining special EU status.
"You can't have special status within the EU for a region that's going to be outside the EU and we are going to be outside the EU completely and absolutely," he said. "If there is a case for special status maybe it's a case for special status for the Republic of Ireland, as a member of the EU. Special status within it, so it would be liberated to trade with its biggest partner, the UK, without the restraints of EU tariff. So if there's a case for special status it doesn't lie in respect of this part of the island of Ireland, it lies elsewhere and maybe that's what the government in Dublin should be focusing on."
Turning to domestic politics, Mr Allister said of the "thousands" of people he had met on the canvas trail he had "yet to meet a voter who doesn't agree that Stormont is a mess".
A mainstay of the TUV manifesto is the party's enduring demand for the system of mandatory coalition government at Stormont, where the main parties are guaranteed a place in the power-sharing executive by right, to be replaced by a system of voluntary coalition.
Mr Allister said discretion on who takes a seat in government should lie with the people, not the parties, adding that if a new system of voluntary coalition is not introduced then direct rule from Westminster should be re-imposed.
The party proposes a model of direct rule whereby MLAs would still sit in the Assembly but the ministers in charge of departments would be from Westminster.