Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary of State has said UK government legislation to set aside the protocol is an "insurance policy" which it would prefer not to use.

Shailesh Vara also said Northern Ireland parties should reform an Executive now to help people with the cost of living crisis.

The DUP has refused to return to Stormont until its protocol concerns are addressed.

Mr Vara made the comments during a speech in Oxford this evening.

He said the UK's preferred option on the protocol was a negotiated settlement with the EU to address issues of concern.

Relations between the two have been damaged by the ongoing wrangle over UK demands for changes to it.

It is a set of rules governing trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Unionist say it cuts Northern Ireland off economically and constitutionally from the rest of the UK.

The UK government is taking forward domestic legislation which would effectively set aside large parts of it.

"Our aim with the legislation on the Northern Ireland Protocol is to put in place an insurance policy so that we can ensure we have a way of resolving the issues with the Protocol," Mr Vara said.

"Like all insurance policies, they are better if they’re not invoked but we must bring about a resolution."

Mr Vara said the focus should be on repairing relations with Ireland and the wider EU, which would be in everyone’s interests.

"We need to get back to finding some common understanding and a relationship of trust between friends and neighbours with a spirit of good intent and a willingness to make things better," he said.

He also called on NI parties to form an Executive and said if they did not, he would call another assembly election at the end of October.

Politicians had a responsibility to restore power-sharing so that Westminster cash sent to Stormont to help with the cost of living crisis could be distributed, he said.

Mr Vara's comments come just hours after his NIO colleague and fellow minister Conor Burns said there was nothing to stop the DUP re-entering power-sharing at Stormont immediately.

Mr Burns said the absence of an Executive was harming people caught in the cost of living crisis.

His intervention sparked an angry response from the DUP.

Lagan Valley MLA Emma Little Pengelly said his comments were "misguided".

She said he should focus on replacing the protocol rather than "pointed attacks" on the DUP.

She said no unionist party supported the protocol and it must be replaced with arrangements which unionist could accept.