European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefcovic said he will work on finding solutions to the issues surrounding the Protocol as he began his trip to Northern Ireland today.

His visit started at the border this morning with a visit to an enterprise park near Jonesborough, Co Armagh.

Mr Šefcovic's arrival coincided with a major speech from DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson who said his party will collapse the Stormont Executive "within weeks" if changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol are not delivered.

The top EU official travelled on to Newry to meet business leaders, including representatives of the Ulster Farmers Union, Manufacturing NI, Logistics UK and the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium.

Mr Šefcovic will also meet civic leaders and Stormont politicians.

Speaking at the border, Mr Šefcovic said he was in Northern Ireland to listen to people's experience of negotiating the new arrangements and looked forward to two days of "intensive exchanges".

"I have come here to listen and to learn what are the practical problems of Irish people and how we can help seek good solutions."

But Mr Šefcovic said it was wrong to view the Protocol as the problem and that it was the "only reliable solution" to dealing with the consequences of Brexit.

He also said he hoped to have a "constructive" meeting with Mr Donaldson at Stormont today.

Maroš Šefcovic meeting business leaders in Newry

The visit comes after Mr Šefcovic met Taoiseach Micheál Martin in Dublin yesterday.

Mr Šefcovic has told EU member states that he will bring forward proposals to break the deadlock around the Protocol soon, with offers on agrifood, customs, medicines and strengthening the role of the NI institutions in overseeing its operation.

He spoke to PA news agency after meeting business representatives in Newry and reacted to the DUP decision to ramp up its campaign of opposition to the post-Brexit arrangements.

He said: "I already had conversations with Sir Jeffrey a couple of weeks ago.

"I will see him this afternoon as I will see also the other political leaders.

"We will have the opportunity to discuss this face to face and my message will be 'let's work on the concrete problems'.

"Let's focus on the issues which are the most important for the people of Northern Ireland, let's be constructive, let's dial down the political rhetoric, let's bring calm and focus on what is our task to accomplish.

"I know that Sir Jeffrey is a very experienced politician and I know that he wants the best for Northern Ireland and I can assure him that is my intention as well."

Mr Šefcovic said the purpose of his trip to Northern Ireland was to find out "face-to-face" what the problems are with the implementation of the Protocol.

He said: "I came here to listen, to learn what are the concrete problems that the people of Northern Ireland are facing with the implementation of the Protocol.

"But I am also here to talk about opportunities the Protocol is bringing, especially to the economy and of course the people of Northern Ireland, and I am starting with the business representatives.

"I just had a very inspiring meeting with representatives of companies who told me over the last 10-15 years this border region was completely transformed thanks to the great co-operation between the EU, the UK and Ireland and it has brought a lot of business opportunities, it brought peace, it brought security and I think this is what we want to achieve also with the proper implementation of the Protocol.

"I know there are some who are opposing, I know there are a lot of people who are supporting but I want really to hear from the stakeholders what are the concrete problems so we can focus on them and help to resolve the remaining outstanding issues."

Options to deal with Protocol issues, says retail body

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium has said there is a "realisation" in the business community that changes need to be made to remove the friction around the Protocol.

Its director Aodhán Connolly said: "There are challenges and that is what we are going to be telling Maroš Šefcovic today."

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Connolly said the UK wants something equivalent to a New Zealand-style agreement while the EU wants economic alignment.

There cannot be regulation without representation, he added.

"It is one of the key asks that we had back at the start of this. We asked for mitigation, compensation and respresentation and we still have to get that representation," Mr Connolly said.

He said there are ways of doing this by looking at other countries with close relationships with the EU, such as Norway, "rather than getting rid of the Protocol".

There are solutions, Mr Connolly said, but he cannot see the political will on both sides to deliver them.

Additional reporting - PA