Lord Frost said he would soon share legal texts with Brussels setting out how the UK intended to overwrite the protocol with new arrangements could unilaterally suspend the existing deal if it the bloc does not respond.
“Will it be over by Christmas? I think something will be,” Lord Frost said at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. “I personally believe there comes a decision point, probably in early November, when we know whether an agreement can be reached or not.”
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson was told in a face-to-face meeting with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, that he has until the end of the month to fix the Protocol or the party would collapse the Stormont power-sharing agreement.
Sir Jeffrey’s intervention will be seen as an attempt to ratchet up pressure on Lord Frost and Mr Johnson to trigger Article 16.
Brussels is set to bring forward counter-proposals on the Protocol in the middle of October. One EU source said: “We think that Christmas will now be the moment of truth.”
Senior government sources have previously indicated that they will give Brussels until the end of December to agree to renegotiate the protocol, which requires Northern Ireland to continue following EU single market rules and creates a customs border between mainland Britain and the province.
Lord Frost said that if the decision to trigger Article 16 was taken it would not be “out of the blue” and would not happen until negotiations with the EU had taken place. It was important that the negotiation process was seen to be exhausted before the option of Article 16, he said, but added that the conditions for using the clause were “already met”.
On Monday night, senior DUP sources told The Telegraph that Sir Jeffrey’s threat had been “absolutely explicit”, with one adding: “The conditions for triggering Article 16 now exist. End of October.”
The EU has warned that triggering Article 16, which is meant to protect against economic and societal emergencies caused by the treaty, would break international law and risk retaliatory trade tariffs. It argues the conditions have not been met and has threatened legal action if the clause is used.