The latest round of talks with the EU to rehash the UK’s post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland are due to begin in London.
The Government’s chief negotiator to the EU, Lord Frost, is to meet European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic on Friday, in the latest round of talks about the Northern Ireland Protocol.
In October, the EU offered a series of changes to the protocol, which would remove 80% of checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland.
But the UK Government wants further alterations, including removing the role of the judges in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as the arbitrators of disputes.
The talks over the protocol, which is designed to maintain free-flowing borderless trade on the island of Ireland, remain deadlocked.
There is growing speculation that the UK is poised to use a get-out clause from the deal in the coming weeks.
Lord Frost told the House of Lords on Wednesday that triggering Article 16 – which would effectively suspend elements of the arrangements – would be the UK’s only option if the dispute was not resolved.
He there was “a real opportunity to turn away from confrontation, to move beyond our current difficulties and put in place a new, and better, equilibrium” in the talks.
But he added it was “not inevitable” that Article 16 would be triggered.
He said: “In my view, this talks process has not reached its end.
“Although we have been talking nearly four weeks now, there remain possibilities that the talks have not yet seriously examined, including many approaches suggested by the UK.
“There is more to do and I will certainly not give up on this process unless and until it is abundantly clear that nothing more can be done. We are certainly not there yet.
“If, however, we do in due course reach that point, the Article 16 safeguards will be our only option.”
The Irish Government has held talks with US President Joe Biden’s administration about the protocol.
On Thursday, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said contact with the US government was designed to “encourage progress” in negotiations.
The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods, resulting in some checks for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.