Britain will not trigger an emergency provision in its Brexit deal on Friday, its negotiator said on arriving for talks with the European Union's pointman aimed at overcoming disagreements over trade across the Irish border.
The emergency measures, called Article 16, allows either side to take unilateral action if they deem their agreement governing post-Brexit trade is having a strongly negative impact on their interests.
Britain left the bloc last year, but it has since refused to implement some of the border checks between its province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland that the 27-nation union says London is obliged to under their divorce deal.
London says the checks are disproportionate and are heightening tensions in Northern Ireland, putting at risk a 1998 peace deal that largely brought an end to three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries.
'Tighter Controls Necessary'
The EU says tighter controls are necessary to protect its single market of 450 million people.
"We are not going to trigger Article 16 today, but Article 16 is very much on the table," Britain's negotiator David Frost told journalists.
Later on Friday, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters Britain would press on with negotiations to try to resolve the issues with the so-called Northern Ireland protocol that governs post-Brexit trade with the province.
"We obviously want to agree consensual solutions on the protocol and we need to resolve these issues urgently, because the disruption on the ground in Northern Ireland hasn't gone away," the spokesperson said.
As expectations grow that London might resort to that option, Frost said the best way of avoiding it was "if we can reach an agreement, an essential agreement... that provides a sustainable solution".
He said there was a "significant" gap between the EU and the UK on the matter and that time was running out for his negotiations with Maros Sefcovic, a deputy head of the bloc's executive European Commission.
A spokesperson for the Commission told a regular news briefing on Friday the bloc was "fully concentrated on finding solutions that provide predictability for people" in Ireland and Northern Ireland that share a history of sectarian violence.
Asked whether it was planning what to do should London trigger Article 16, the Commission - which negotiates with Britain on behalf of EU countries - said earlier this week it always prepares for eventualities.