The UK ambassador to Ireland says his government doesn't want 'to get rid of' the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Paul Johnston also says the Stormont assembly should be sitting 'in parallel' with any talks on the post-Brexit agreement.
The DUP is refusing to re-enter the executive there until the protocol is torn up.
But Ambassador Johnston told The Hard Shoulder there is no reason the Stormont assembly can't sit.
"Our view is that the two things can run in parallel: we can have an executive that's functioning and delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.
"And we can be seeking to get the changes we need to the protocol."
But he denies levels of trust are low.
"I think this is a difficult situation within Northern Ireland - which is something that the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach have both been very clear is a top priority."
On a DUP campaign pledge around the protocol, he says they would rather see the assembly working.
"The Democratic Unionist Party campaigned on a mandate that there would need to be changes to the protocol.
"And their argument is that, therefore, there needs to be changes to the protocol before they're prepared to return to the executive.
"We would rather that the executive was up and running, and that this process was in parallel.
"We think the two things can go together".
Ambassador Johnston says the British government does not want to scrap the protocol.
"We are clear we don't want to get rid of it, but we want to see it substantially improved.
"No one is arguing that it can't be improved - at the moment, it's only operating as it is because it's got the grace periods and the standstills that have been adopted over the past year.
"So I don't think anyone would be arguing for going back to the original - if you like - full fat implementation of the protocol.
"So there is a recognition that more flexibility is needed, and the Irish Government has been very clear on that.
"I think the difference between Britain and others in the European Union - including the Irish Government - is over the question of whether the protocol as currently designed can deliver the flexibility that is needed".
Talks between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and leaders of the North's main parties took place earlier.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Johnson claimed even Sinn Féin agreed the protocol could be improved.
"I spoke to all five parties: not one of them likes the way it's operating.
"They all think it can be reformed and improved - the question is how do you do that?
"We would love for this to be done in a consensual way with our friends and partners".
We must have a functioning Assembly and Executive, so it can deliver for people in Northern Ireland.
There is no substitute for strong local leadership on issues like schools, health and the economy. Stormont must get back to work. pic.twitter.com/JgO5ZbTVD3
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) May 16, 2022
Mr Johnson says a legislative solution is needed to address it.
"We need a government, we need that executive formed.
"And so is often the case in Northern Ireland, there are things that different parties want fixed.
"We've come to try and sort some things out - ironing out the problems, stopping some of these barriers east-west.
"But to get that done, to have the insurance we need to proceed with a legislative solution at the same time".
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald says the discussion with Mr Johnson was not an easy conversation.
"We've had what we would describe as a fairly tough meeting with the Prime Minister.
"We have put it to him very directly that the absolute priority is about getting government working here in the North".
The Taoiseach Micheál Martin earlier met with Sinn Féin's deputy leader Michelle O'Neill, and also spoke with EU Council President Charles Michel, about the current impasse.
Good phone call with @eucopresident Charles Michel today.
We both agreed the only way forward on the Protocol is through substantive talks between the EU and UK.
Any unilateral action is damaging and cannot help.
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) May 16, 2022