Unionists must recognize they will not get everything they want from the government in negotiations over trade arrangements after Brexit, former DUP leader Peter Robinson has said.
Mr Robinson said he believed there was still a “gap” between the DUP and the government but hoped the differences could be resolved in the coming weeks.
The DUP has blocked power-sharing at Stormont for more than a year and a half in protest at the UK's internal trade barriers created by the Northern Ireland Brexit Protocol.
The party has been involved in negotiations with the government on the Windsor framework, which reforms the protocol and seeks further assurances, through legislation, on Northern Ireland's place in the UK's internal market.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said talks were in their final stages, but DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson warned there were still gaps between their negotiating positions and said he could not be sure power-sharing in Stormont will be back before the end of this. year.
In an interview on the BBC Talkback programme, Mr Robinson, a former Stormont first minister, said further changes to the post-Brexit arrangements could be negotiated in the Assembly.
He said: “There is a stage where trade unionists have to recognize that we have really pushed for this, we have got a good deal – not everything that we wanted, but the rest that we want, I think we are able to support that and get it using the Assembly as our basis to do so.”
Asked if he believed a deal was imminent, Mr Robinson said: “There is still a gap.
“I don't think we're quite there at the moment, but there are further steps the government can take and I hope they do.”
He added: “Nationalists and republicans look at what their goal is, every step they take they look to see – does that bring us closer to our goal.
“Unionists and loyalists think they have to clear the table in one go, to use a snooker analogy, but that's not always possible.
“What you want to do is make sure you have enough score to be able to clear the table when you go next.
“In my view, it's solvable, so hopefully it can be within the next few weeks … because frankly, I don't think you can get past the turn of the year without the government having to look at some other way of governing the North Ireland”.
However, DUP MP Sammy Wilson disputed the claim that his party was close to a deal that would bring back Stormont.
He said: “Peter knows and the public knows that we have set certain objectives which we believe are necessary for the stability of the Assembly and the security of the union and if those conditions are not met there is no point in returning to the Assembly.
“You have to look at the nature of the deal to decide whether it's a good deal or not.
“The objectives we set were to restore Northern Ireland's place in the union. We are a unionist party and you would expect us to do that.”
He added: “I certainly don't get the impression that we are close … he (Peter Robinson) must have different information than I do.”
Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy said the people of Northern Ireland were suffering because of “dysfunction” within the DUP.
He told the BBC: “I think there's a degree of choreography going on, (Peter Robinson's comments) echo the comments Jeffrey Donaldson made at his party conference.
“But in the meantime everyone is sitting and waiting for this drama to happen within the DUP.
“Clearly one of their main problems is the level of dissent and dysfunction within their own party.
“While the rest of us wait, schemes suffer and public services suffer, people have an uncertain financial future and the cost of living crisis continues to bite families and workers, the DUP continues to play this out.
“They really need to make a decision, face the party and tell them now is the time to get back to the executive and get back to work with the rest of us.”