Lord Frost spent two days in Belfast meeting political leaders and representatives from the business community.
All the parties urged him to reach an agreement with the EU, with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson adding that he expects decisive action, such as the triggering of Article 16 of the protocol, if progress is not made “within a reasonable time”.
The protocol has seen additional checks on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain as the region effectively remains within the single market to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The parties are sharply split over the protocol, with unionists denouncing it as a border down the Irish Sea and nationalists calling for its full implementation.
On Wednesday, Lord Frost said triggering Article 16, a safeguard mechanism in the protocol which can effectively suspend elements of the arrangements, remains a “very real option”, but he would prefer to reach agreement with the EU.
Later in the House of Commons, prime ninister Boris Johnson reiterated his comments earlier in the week that the use of Article 16 would be “legitimate” and “perfectly legal”.
‘Back from the brink’
DUP MP Ian Paisley said the onus is on the EU to find agreement which can work for both sides. “If they continue with their stubborn refusal,then the United Kingdom will not only be justified in taking the necessary unilateral action to restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market, but it will have no other option than to do so,” he said.
However Sinn Féin MLA Declan Kearney urged the UK government to “step back from the brink”.
“It is essential at this point in time that the rhetoric around threats of triggering Article 16 are discontinued, and we said that very clearly to David Frost this morning,” he said.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said triggering Article 16 “would be extremely short-sighted” and cause Northern Ireland “serious economic harm”.
Alliance leader Naomi Long said she stressed to Lord Frost “the importance of taking the negotiations seriously, of trying to find a landing zone that we can all agree on so we can remove the instability that is currently hanging over the institutions and businesses and start to move forward”.
Earlier Lord Frost said he would “very much hope” to bring the talks with the EU to a conclusion.
“That’s what we would most like to do. If we can’t, if there can’t be an agreement, then obviously the famous Article 16 is a very real option for us,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.
Asked about Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney’s assessment that there will be a deal before Christmas, he said: “I think it can be done. Whether it will be done is a different question, it’s got to be a deal that deals with the problems, solves the underlying problems and makes a difference to businesses and people’s lives.”
Minister for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said he viewed Lord Frost’s comments as “positive” and an indication he was in “solutions mode”. – PA