"If no such solution can be found, we remain prepared to use the safeguard provisions under Article 16, which are a legitimate recourse under the Protocol in order for the Government to meet its responsibilities to the people of Northern Ireland," Frost said in a statement issued after his meeting with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels.
As part of the Brexit agreement that came into force in January, there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but under the protocol all goods and animal-based products coming from the rest of the British territories must be checked upon arrival to see if they comply with EU sanitary regulations.
The UK government has argued that the protocol is not working, as it causes delays and interruptions to goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and irritates loyalists of the British crown who believe their place within the union could be affected.
In October, the EU offered to cut checks on food, plants and animal products by 80% and paperwork for transport companies by half, but London is pushing for renegotiating the whole protocol. According to Frost, talks this week between the UK and the EU focused on medicines, customs and sanitary and phytosanitary measures, "though other subjects have also been considered."
The UK minister also confirmed that "significant gaps" remain across must issues, and stressed that a "durable solution" requires goods to be able to move freely into Northern Ireland when both sides agree that they are remaining in Northern Ireland. "Looking forward, the United Kingdom's preference remains to secure a solution based on consensus. But any such solution must constitute a significant change from the current situation, materially ease practical problems on the ground, and safeguard political, economic and societal stability in Northern Ireland," he said.
Discussions will continue next week and Frost and Sefcovic are expected to meet again on November 26 in London.