London - Talks on a post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union must be concluded before the issue of Northern Ireland's border can be resolved, according to Britain's international trade secretary.
"We don't want there to be a hard border, but the UK is going to be leaving the customs union and the single market," Liam Fox told Sky News on Sunday.
"We can't come to a final answer to the Irish question until we get an idea of the end state," Fox said, according to the Press Association. "And until we get into discussions with the EU on the end state that will be very difficult."
He added: "We are still in a position where the EU doesn't want to do that."
Progress in three areas
As time ticks down toward Britain's expected divorce from the EU in March 2019, leaders of the bloc's 27 other member states want to see progress in three areas - citizen's rights, a financial settlement and the issue of the Irish border - before they green-light moving on to trade talks.
Both Ireland and Britain are seeking a solution to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland - which is part of Britain - after Brexit.
Ireland insists that can be done only if Northern Ireland is allowed to remain "as a minimum" an extension of the EU's single market, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said last week, while the rest of Britain leaves it in line with the British government's plan.
Prime Minister Theresa May is due to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on December 4 to present what the EU hopes will be "sufficient progress" on the three hot-button issues.