The EU's Brexit negotiator has told a seminar in Dublin that there will be no renegotiation of the Northern Ireland Protocol and that the EU will not accept any solution that will cut the region off from the benefits of the single market.
Speaking to the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) today, Maroš Šefčovič said the EU would continue to work to find practical solutions to make the protocol "work on the ground".
He said recent threats concerning the triggering of Article 16 were "not helpful", describing such talk "as a distraction".
The European Commission vice-president said intensive engagement was ongoing to find solutions to certain practical difficulties, and that the focus of this was on issues that matter to people of the Northern Ireland.
Mr Šefčovič cited the example of NHS medicines, which he said was "a complicated area".
He said EU officials were working intensively to find solutions, and in "permanent touch" with their UK counterparts.
However, Mr Šefčovič also said the EU would never be able to remove the obstacles of Brexit entirely because of Great Britain's decision to leave the union.
Earlier this week, Britain's Brexit minister said the UK "cannot wait forever" for the EU to respond to its proposals to reform the Northern Ireland Protocol and it is prepared to invoke Article 16.
David Frost said the "crunch point" in his quest to get changes to the protocol will happen some time next month.
Mr Šefčovič also said the package of measures to be finalised on the protocol will be "far reaching proposals".
He said he hoped to make a presentation on behalf of the EU next week with a period of intense discussion to follow in October and November, and that he hoped to make "clear headway" on the issues "by the end of the year".
He described as "constructive" his engagement with Mr Frost over the summer.
In July, the British government published a formal communication (known as a 'Command Paper' in the British system) on changes it wants to see to the protocol.
Discussions have been ongoing between officials in London and Brussels, but the EU has held off publishing a formal response until after the Conservative Party conference.
The European Commission vice-president said the EU proposals on the protocol would not be "a take it or leave it approach".
Mr Šefčovič earlier said compromise was required by both sides.
In response to questions concerning the UK threats to trigger Article 16, he said he hoped "we would not go down that road" but added that if it was triggered, the EU "will not hesitate to use all options available" to protect EU interests.
He said his priority was to solve the issues in Northern Ireland concerning the operation of the protocol.
The UK is responsible for carrying out the checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from other parts of Britain, to ensure they comply with EU standards.
Asked what it would take for the EU to reduce some of the checks these goods, Mr Šefčovič VP said he would need real time access to the IT data bases.
He said this issue had been discussed since the summer of 2020 and that just last week, he had received "additional" information from Mr Frost on the infrastructure being built and the access which will be granted to EU experts.
Mr Šefčovič said a "step by step" approach was getting both parties where they needed to be.
He said once an acceptable system was in place, the EU could look "creatively" on what can be done to reduce such checks.
The European Commission Vice President said removing the oversight role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from the Northern Ireland Protocol would deprive Northern Irish businesses of access to the single market and would do nothing to solve the practical problems affecting businesses and civic society.
In July the UK Government called for the Protocol to be changed so that "the relationship between the UK and the EU is not ultimately policed by the EU institutions including the Court of Justice". EU Single Market rules, which apply in Northern Ireland as part of the protocol are overseen by the ECJ.
Mr Šefčovič said he had only heard the issue raised once during his time meeting business and community leaders in Northern Ireland. He described the UK's demand as "some kind of late addition".
"If you are talking about the the constructive solutions to the to the practical problems I think that doing away with the European Court of Justice, it's not one of them.
And to be quite honest, I find it hard to see how Northern Ireland would stay or would keep the access to the single market without oversight of the European Court of Justice.
Do we want to deprive the people of Northern Ireland for this tremendous opportunity, this huge advantage? ", he told the IIEA in Dublin.
Mr Sefcovic said the consequences of such a request being granted should be thought about very carefully by the UK:
"So let's think very, very carefully what we are putting on the table and what kind of price tag this might have for the businesses and for the people in Northern Ireland"
Additional reporting: Colm Ó Mongáin